The moral child lives by the golden rule. He would not grow up to fatally shoot anyone, let alone 20 grade school children in Sandy Hook, Conn.
During nearly a quarter century at Newsweek, I worked on many stories about killers– Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber), Jeffrey Dahmer (the Wisconsin serial killer), Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber).
And I always wondered what someone could have done differently when these men were boys. What would have given them more empathy so that they would have felt unable to commit atrocities against other human beings?
Years ago I wrote a Newsweek story called "Raising a Moral Child." Top psychologists and psychiatrists shared ways to raise kids who live by the Golden Rule.
Today, as Americans consider many ways to prevent future tragedies, it's worth revisiting what you can do in your family.
Here are a few steps (based on my reporting for the Newsweek story) everyone can take to raise children and grandchildren with big hearts:
Be a moral person yourself. Tufts University psychologist David Elkind said parents should be honest, straightforward, and decent, which sounds deceptively easy. (While driving, have you ever done anything risky, such as texting or going over the speed limit?)
Respond immediately to babies' cries for help. Barbara Howard, a specialist in developmental behavioral pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said parents who respond instantly to a newborn's wails set an important moral groundwork. Someone cares.
Teach healthy behavior. A little one wants to bite or hit? Remove a 1-year-old from the situation – and help a toddler figure out alternatives, such as punching a pillow or drawing a sad picture, said psychiatrist David Fassler. Ask the child how he thinks it would feel if someone whopped him.
Praise kids. Limit criticism of messy rooms and other perceived failings – and liberally compliment neat corners and everything else, Fassler told me.
Expose kids to people of different backgrounds. Stanford developmental psychologist William Damon told me kids then learn to empathize with everyone, not just those who look or act like they do.
Be wary of violent shows and games. If kids watch them, especially without your supervision, they can get the wrong idea about how to treat others, Kareh Bohlin of Boston University's Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character told me.
Model good values. Kids will do what you do. If you curse, you teach your children that swearing is OK. If you volunteer in your community, you increase the odds that they'll follow suit.
Here's to raising moral children who would be unable to pull a trigger.
For more stories about psychologically healthy families, read: