What is Conscience?

A definition of conscience in simple words for children

A conscience is the voice in your head, and the feeling in your heart, that tells you if something is right or wrong.

Have you ever done something you knew wasn’t ok, and then you felt achy in your heart or kind of prickly in your body? That’s your conscience!

If you’ve ever thought about doing something you knew wasn’t ok, and the voice in your head said, “Maybe you shouldn’t do that. You might get in trouble.” That’s your conscience!

In simple words, your conscience is your inner guide and it helps you figure out how to make good choices. As you grow up, you learn right from wrong. Your conscience is the thought and feeling you have that tells you whether something is a right or wrong thing to do or say. “Listening to your conscience” means you hear and feel the messages your conscience sends you that help you make a good choice.

Your conscience helps you know right from wrong.

Listen to the signals your heart and mind make:

  • when your heart feels achy because you know something is wrong
  • when you have thoughts that maybe you shouldn't do something because you'll get in trouble
  • when your heart swells with pride because you were kind, or honest, or responsible

For more about conscience, scroll down:

  • How a conscience works
  • A story about listening to your conscience

How your conscience works

A definition of conscience can be challenging, because a conscience is invisible. You can’t see it or touch it, but you can feel it in your mind and in your body. Your conscience knows all the rules you’ve learned about right and wrong. It knows what you’ve been taught about core values, like honesty, responsibility, and respect.

Your conscience is like a super fast computer app that compares what you are about to do against your core values to help you know if your actions are right or wrong.

It's kind of like you put what you want to say or do into the "Conscience 3000-s Analyzer", and your conscience compares what you want against what you know is right and wrong. Then, it tells you the answer in your heart and in your mind. Try this worksheet about What is a Conscience?

Rooted in Decency Book on Core Values and Common Decency

A story about listening to your conscience

When a boy sneaks off to play his game player when mom has told him not to, he's surprised to learn that the tree he's hiding behind has seen this sort of thing before. Through a touching story about the boys own father (who snuck of himself when he was young), the boy learns that your heart and mind let you know when you are doing something you know is dishonest. Before long, the boy discovers, "Oh no! I have a conscience!"

With the tree's wise guidance, the boy learns to listen to his conscience and to make a better choice. In the end, he discovers that the true reward of making good choices is the feeling of pride in your heart.

Learn more about Be Proud, a children's picture book on conscience, honesty, and growing from mistakes.

Colleen Doyle Bryant

Colleen Doyle Bryant is the author of five books and more than 50 learning resources about making good choices for the right reasons. Her Talking with Trees series for elementary students and Truth Be Told Quotes series for teens are used in curricula around the world. Rooted in Decency, Colleen’s most recent release, written for an adult audience, explores how the decline in common decency is affecting wellbeing, and how we can build more trust and cooperation. Learn more at ColleenDoyleBryant.com