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Ethical and Legal Issues in Education

Child educators are constantly faced with ethical dilemmas. At the same time, they are expected to uphold their ethical responsibilities towards the children and their parents. Making a difference between ethical dilemmas, ethical responsibilities, and knowing which those are is paramount for a successful education and child care. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the presented ethical issue, determine whether it is a dilemma or responsibility, and provide possible solutions to benefit all of the stakeholders involved.

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The Ethical Issue

Jane, a three-year-old preschooler, refuses to drink her milk in class and drinks only water instead. The parents insist on forcing her to drink milk by any means necessary, as it would be good for her health. The father suggests not letting the girl drink water until she drinks milk. Kristen, the class supervisor, seeing that Jane does not drink milk and cries, allows her to drink water. The child also asks Kristen not to tell her father about it. What should Kristen do about this situation, and could she use the NAEYC code to guide her actions?

Is it an Ethical Issue?

It is an ethical issue because it concerns several ethical and moral tenets of the profession, as well as the rights of all stakeholders involved. It concerns the child’s right to choose and the parents’ duty to do what is best for their child. For the teacher, the situation concerns her professional ethics and integrity, as she is requested to lie on the child’s behalf.

Is it an Ethical Dilemma?

No, it is not an ethical dilemma. According to the NAEYC code, the first and governing principle of ethical conduct is as followed: “Above all, we shall not harm children. We shall not participate in practices that are emotionally damaging, physically harmful, disrespectful, degrading, dangerous, exploitative, or intimidating to children. This principle has precedence over all others in this Code” (“Code of ethical conduct,” 2011, p.3).

Not giving the child any water if she refuses to drink milk is a direct violation of this principle since there is a possibility that the child will not drink milk out of protest, thus endangering her health. All other considerations in this situation, such as the benefits for her health from drinking milk or following the demands of her family, are considered secondary.

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Conflicting Responsibilities

In this scenario, the educator has conflicting responsibilities towards the girl and the parents. On the one hand, the code of ethical conduct requires her to safeguard the child’s health, while on the other hand, she is required to promote the child’s health and adhere to her parents’ wishes. In this case, the responsibility to safeguard Jane’s health overrules all other considerations.

Possible Solutions

It is important to find a solution that would be ethical towards the parents, the child, and the educator, as the child’s health and emotional well-being are inseparable from that of the family (“Code of ethical conduct,” 2011, p.3). If the situation is not resolved, the conflict is likely to reoccur in the future. One possible solution to make Jane drink milk is the use of positive reinforcement instead of a negative one. Jane could be promised a reward for drinking milk, such as sweets, a toy, or even verbal praise. That way, if she does not comply with the necessity of drinking milk, her life would not be in danger for doing so. In addition, the educator must teach the girl about the benefits of milk in order to convince her to drink it.


Code of ethical conduct. (2011). Web.

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