Parents, teachers and peers are critical in the development of morals, which are essentially a set of rules and expectations that guide behavior. At different developmental stages, children have different values, different perspectives and a variety of relationships that influence moral development.

Morals of Punishment and Obedience

In early stages of moral development, children are guided by an attempt to avoid punishment and meet personal needs through an obedience to rules and a simple decision between right and wrong.

Morals of Fairness and Equality

Developmentally, children at this stage are self-centered and self-motivated, and are focused on meeting personal needs before the needs of others; only in rare circumstances are the needs of others addressed first.

Morals Guided by Expectations and Rules

With experience, guidance and support, children advance to the next stage of moral development where individual morals grow in alignment with interpersonal norms and the expectations of the group surrounding the individual (e.g., peers, teachers and parents).

Morals of Law and Order

Behavior in this stage is characterized by an obedience to laws, a respect of authority figures and an adherence to societal rules or norms.

Morals of Social Contract

At the post-conventional level, appropriate behavior is based on societal norms, rules and laws. However, there is care to ensure that individual values are maintained and justice is achieved.

Morals of Universal and Ethical Principles

Although behavior is often dictated by rules, laws and expectations, there are outstanding circumstances where independent thought and moral reasoning can surpass generally accepted norms in the moral decision-making process.