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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