Developing Character in Your Children

Child with heart shaped paper

We all want to help our kids become caring, courageous, positive and principled people. But in today’s hectic, information-overdosed world there seem to be a thousand influences on them that we are not always happy about. And when they don’t act like the kind of people we hoped they would be, we often feel out of control, out of ideas and worried about how to turn things around.

As a parent educator and therapist, I often hear parents wishing that their children would: take greater initiative at home and school, be more able to put themselves in others’ shoes, take more responsibility for their actions, value togetherness as a family, consistently treat peers, adults and themselves with respect, be more honest even when the truth is difficult to share, courageously face fears, persist through challenges and be less influenced by negative peer pressure and more able to stand up for what they believe in. This can be summed up as demonstrating character.

The questions below are offered as food for thought. Your answers will provide you with clues as to whether or not you have embraced opportunities to model each trait for or with your children. You have the power and influence to bring about changes in your children and to help them develop character. I have focussed on ten key character traits, listed in random order.

– When new neighbours move onto your street or into your building, how do you welcome them?
– When a chore needs taking care of at home, do you usually offer or wait to be asked?
– Would you describe yourself as a “leader” or a “follower?”

– If one of your peers speaks badly about another person with whom you are friends, do you stand up for your friend or join in on the slanderous conversation?
– Is it difficult to follow through with your plans if you are being encouraged to take part in some other activity?
– Do your values and beliefs change depending on whether your children are around?

– Do you tend to see the cup half full or half empty?
– When it’s difficult to see your way through a maze of difficulty, do you focus on getting to the exit or at being stuck where you are?
– How do you help your children meet your expectations? By focussing on improvement, effort and interest or by looking at what they are doing wrong and then giving them pointers about how they can do things differently?

– If you’re stuck on a difficult crossword puzzle or project, do you give up and walk away prematurely? Walk away and come back to finish later or walk away and never return?
– when your child wants Velcro laces because he or she is having difficulty learning to tie shoelaces, what do you do and say?
– How soon do you allow your child to let go of an activity because it is too challenging?

– How do you talk to your elders even if you are frustrated and feeling impatient?
– Do you wait for a traffic light to turn green before crossing the street, even if there are no cars around?
– How do you model self respect?

– How does your family work towards dividing chores as a team? Are chores delegated by people in a position of authority or as a result of a more democratic process?
– If your child repeatedly forgets his or her lunch at home, do you always drop it off at school?
– Do you follow through with your promises and obligations?

– If your child says that he or she is hungry shortly after dinner is over and you can’t understand why this should be, what do you do and say?
– If your child says that he or she is hot when you are feeling cold, what do you do or say?
– when your child is upset and tells you about a nasty incident at school, how do you react, even if you suspect that he or she may have been partly to blame?

– Do you feel the need to give each of your children the identical item each time you make a new purchase, even if it is not necessary?
– Do you typically take care of the chores that you ask of them eg do you make your bed if that is what you expect of them?
– Do you try to remain neutral when two of your children are fighting or do you tend to take sides?

– When your child is afraid, do you usually tell him or her that there is nothing to be afraid of or do you acknowledge his or her fears as real and then use encouragement as a way of helping your child face what he or she is afraid of?
– Do your children know that you have fears too?
– Do you expect boys and girls to react differently to fears?

– What do you say if your child asks if the tooth fairy or Santa Claus is real?
– Are you ever dishonest about your child’s age to avoid paying a higher price for admittance to an event?
– Do you encourage your child to say sorry even if you know that he or she probably isn’t?