A moral baby and a kinder mother

Did you know that 5-month-old babies can tell mean from nice?

In a series of studies by Karen Wynn and Kiley Hamlin, one-act morality plays were performed for babies. In one of the plays, a puppet rolls a ball to another puppet, who rolls it back. The puppet then rolls the ball to a different puppet, who grabs the ball and runs away with it.

In another scenario, a puppet is trying to open the lid of a box. One puppet helps him open the lid. Another puppet pushes the lid and slams it shut.

In these experiments, babies tended to prefer the puppet who rolls the ball back to his friend or the puppet that helps the other open the lid. They preferred the “good guy”.

There are numerous experiments that have been conducted, all with similar results. Babies as young as 5-months have an innate preference for ‘good’ or ‘nice’ behaviour.

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” ~ Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who!


I think back to old-fashioned ideas about babies – that they are too small to know better. Too young. Unintelligent. Without feeling. Without memory. Some liken them to a loaf of bread.

Modern studies have unzipped these myths and we now know that babies have memory – even long-term memory. We know that babies think and feel. And we now know they have a sense of morality.

We can’t afford not to be kind to our children.

Even at 5-months, our baby judges our behaviour. They know inherently if we are nice to them, nice to their sister and nice to their father. They are not easily fooled, laying like a loaf of bread, letting reality happen around them.

They are taking in and learning from everything. In those early years, we are the world from which they learn.

Be the person you want your children to be.

No person is perfect. No parent is perfect – whatever that means. We are human, like the next.

Tonight, I threw a picture book across the room because one child demanded me to read, and the other cried when I did. Frustrated and flawed, I was, and I threw.

But my children were watching. Big brown eyes follow my every movement.

I balance the act, by softening my voice, and picking up the book. Sorry, I mumble. I’m frustrated, that’s all. 

Apparently, they forgive me. We snuggle in close for the night. I will be kinder tomorrow, I say to myself.

I am not crippled or intimidated by the fact that they need me to be Nice Mum. For me, it’s as an honour, and an opportunity to grow. I am glad I have to curb my angry, frustrated ways. They don’t serve me, and they certainly won’t serve my children.

Linking with Jess for IBOT at Essentially Jess.

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  • What an interesting study, what clever little people we make. It certainly highlights the need for us to present ourselves how we want them to learn.

    • Absolutely Sophie. Thanks for stopping by. x

  • It’s hard to have someone watching your every move, copying your every word, learning from everything you do. It’s easy to FORGET you have someone doing that. We’re not perfect – just this morning my 4 year old son told me I needed to be patient (waiting in line to drop my car off for service). My god, when did it get so bad I’m being told to be patient by my 4 year old?! It’s very much a conscious effort every single day, and sometimes we will slip up. I think it’s just as important to apologise and explain to them that not everyone is perfect and we don’t expect them to be, either. Very interesting studies there! x Aroha #teamIBOT

    • How does a 4 year old know such things?! It’s amazing. Thanks for coming by! xx

  • I saw this on Facebook yesterday- fascinating! I love these studies and what we are able to learn about infants’ perceptions/ preferences x

    • Yes, I studied psychology, and developmental psychology is so interesting, especially when you have kids and can see it all actually happening. x

  • There’s a tear zig zagging down my face as I write this. This morning I was short, mean and grumpy with my 17 month old – he was up since 4.30 and into everything and by 6.30 I was over it. His older siblings also picked up on my tone 🙁 Thanks for the reminder Zanni.

    • Oh Em. That sounds so tough! 4.30 starts are never fun. I had a moment today when I was grumpy with my 3-year-old, and really growled at her for throwing a million tantrums. I could feel my little baby quake against me, and I felt so bad. But we pulled it all together again. Every day’s a new day. Love to you. xxx

  • It doesn’t surprise me that they pick up on it so quickly. They are extremely intelligent.
    I need to get better at not getting frustrated so easily. Some days it’s easier than others.

    • I know what you mean Jess. I had one of those ‘less easy’ days today. But I’m only human. x

  • It’s easy to forget that they see how we act, sometimes they see too much. Thanks for the reminder Zanni x

  • Kids are solo insightful! This does not surprise me one bit x

    • They are, Tahlia. I love these discoveries. It just confirms it all. x

  • How amazing that! Just precious

    • Isn’t it?! Children always amaze me. 🙂

  • homelifesimplified

    Thanks for this reminder – interesting study as well. I get grumpy too often… but have definitely done a lot of growing in the last 2 years and am much more careful now and definitely fly off the handle less than i used to – hoping to get calmer still (such a type A) – deb xx

  • I always thought that kids are very intelligent. I never believed it when someone say: “It’s a kid, he/she don’t understand.” They do understand but they just need the parent to guide them.

  • kirstyrussell75

    A great reminder Zanni – I do try to set a good example and to be truly kind to my children but I’m not perfect and some days the angry and frustrated me does escape. But I will continue to try harder!

  • beautiful reminder indeed. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
    I am visiting through IBOT.

  • Arent children and how they absorb their surrounding just amazing. Child development facinates and never ceases to amaze me! Definitely a reminder to model behaviour when we can.

    Hello from #teamIBOT

  • I ashamedly saw myself as you recounted throwing the book across the room. I’ve had to apologise more often than I’d like for some of my behavior and moods. It’s more marked now seeing my eldest respond as I do to frustrating situations. Work in progress, I guess. Our little people are sponges.

    • Absolutely Veronica. Thanks for sharing your personal perspective. x