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Children advance in many different areas at different rates, but about the age of 7 they can reach new spiritual development milestones.
Middle childhood is a significant age for the spiritual development of a child, and you will find important rituals in several religions to mark this milestone. Your child’s participation in these rituals is very important as they relate to her on a level she can understand, and give her a sense of spiritual identity. Continue to bring her to religious education classes at your church, synagogue, or mosque.
The psychologist Lawrence Kolberg created a series of stages of moral development based on Piaget’s research. Up until about the age of 7, your child would probably be in the Preconventional Stage, where moral decision-making was based on reward or punishment. Preconventional children believe that all resources should be distributed equally. Hopefully, she has reached the point where she is no longer just acting on impulse, but rather taking a moment to think about her actions, weighing the possible consequences, and making a moral decision. For example, if a friend says something mean, which is an emotional stimulus, instead of having a purely emotional response, she may take a moment to think and offer a rational response, or she may even think, “No, that would be wrong,” and offer a moral response in line with her spiritual beliefs.
At about age 7 your child should enter the Conventional Stage, where moral reasoning becomes based on the opinions of others. She will believe something is right or wrong because you, her religious leader, teacher, coach, or even her friends say it is. Her desire to gain approval takes over and rules her morality, which means that it is still self-centered. She will believe that distribution should be based on merit, so that when Susie gets and A on her project and Lee gets a B, she will accept it as fair if Susie worked harder and had a better project than Lee. She will no longer assume that the teacher likes Susie better than Lee.
Toward the end of middle childhood, about age 10, she will be ready for the Post-Conventional Stage, where her spiritual development will begin to see a morality of cooperation and, because she values her membership in a group, will view the good of others over her own personal benefits. Her beliefs about fairness may take need into consideration at about age 8, so that if mom and dad can only afford one pair of shoes, the child with the oldest and worst shoes should get the new pair.
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I think you are conflating morality and spirituality. Moral development is not the same as spiritual development. Nowhere in his writings or research can I find that psychologist Lawrence Kolberg mentions spirituality. Many people are moral who are not spiritual, and many who claim to be spiritual are moral, they are not the same thing.
Thank you for the thoughtful reply. This post is only an excerpt from my book, which puts forth that the mental and spiritual dimensions of people are different. Elsewhere I explain that scientists, like Kohlberg, tend to see the world only from the mental perspective, and may not believe in spirituality at all. To them, if it cannot be proven in a lab, it is not real. I disagree. I believe spirituality cannot be subject to the laws or beliefs of science any more than science can be subject to the laws or beliefs of spirituality. There are overlaps, but they are different.
That being said, you are correct. Morality and spirituality are not the same, but when addressing a wide audience who may not believe in spirituality, I often insert the word “moral” to keep them from dismissing me without reading the rest of what I have to say. For those who don’t believe in spirituality, most accept morality as an acceptable way of thinking and can at least entertain the possibility of the rest of my words.