Picks and Pans Review: The Moral Intelligence of Children

UPDATED 02/17/1997 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/17/1997 at 01:00 AM EST

by Robert Coles

A 9-year-old cheats on an arithmetic test. A girl barely old enough to take care of herself is now a mother. Bored high school students, destined for Ivy League colleges, busy themselves by getting high. For more than 30 years, Coles, a pediatrician, Harvard professor and psychologist, has studied how children respond to the challenges of life, and in The Moral Intelligence of Children he once again places responsibility for their successes and failures squarely on the adults who influence their behavior. Whether a baby throws a bottle on the floor or a teenager argues with a parent, children are constantly looking for guidance and interpretations of right and wrong behavior, argues the author. A moral education comes from such sources as parental modeling or even storytelling, and it, teaches children impulse control and a tolerance for frustration—an important source, according to Coles, of "self control, compassion and empathy." While an eloquent advocate for children, Coles also portrays the thorny consequences of parenting—where in some cases too much love leads to feelings of self-importance, and too little love to a lack of trust. Intelligent, accessible and compelling, The Moral Intelligence of Children effectively captures the challenge, for children and parents alike, of struggling with life's ironies and ambiguities. (Random House, $21)

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