Have you noticed that some children readily give up their swing on the playground to let another child play? You may have seen your pre-teen speak up when they see someone being wronged. We applaud these little gestures without giving it a second thought.
What does it mean ‘to do the right thing?’. Is ‘doing the right thing’ accidental or simply natural?
Well, these little acts of kindness or courage stem from virtues that children imbibe from a young age. If we were to structure these, we would specifically mention sticking to the following core virtues even when things are not easy:
- Courage or bravery in adversity; the ability to stand up for what we believe is the right thing, even if we are scared.
- Temperance or the ability to choose the right measure of risk amidst fear and courage, to make a balanced decision.
- Justice or giving primary importance to honesty & integrity; in every situation.
- Wisdom is developing an evolving world view, which includes taking calculated risks, making course corrections, admission to mistakes and overall better choices.
While these seem extremely obvious, it is not necessarily so. Character building starts at a very young age as children start mimicking others and imitating words and actions of those around them. Parents are not the only influencers but are most definitely the most influential. Hence, it is important for us as parents to reiterate and demonstrate these traits consciously!
Let’s look at a few ways parents can help build their child’s character:
Be a Role Model
Parents who exhibit the qualities of good character transmit the same values to their children. Take time to reflect on your words and actions to ensure you portray the character traits you want your child to develop. For example, when you have a family function to attend, inform the school of the real reason for absence rather than calling in sick. Your child learns communication and honesty from you!
Focus on what we can control
Talk to your children about how we can’t always control what happens, but we can control our response. Sometimes, friends decide to be mean and tease a kid who has fallen off the swing. Your child can choose to be kind and help the child up.
Recognize and Appreciate Good Behavior
When your child acts in ways that exemplify positive values, praise them for it. Instead of simply saying “Good job!”, be specific. Praise their courage, honesty, or kindness. When your praise is specific, you help children learn which character traits matter. In addition, praise good behavior of others as well. When children begin to recognize good character traits, they eventually develop role models who inspire them.
Families help children process the challenges of everyday life through supportive discussions. When you listen and respond to your child’s stories about school and peers, you can help her think through the right thing to do. Your child may tell you how her friend stole a pencil from someone and got away with it. You will have to gently explain that this behavior is not desirable, leading to loss and unhappiness of the person it was taken from. Build empathy through examples that connect with their daily lives. Empathy encourages tolerance and acceptance of others.
Develop Solution Orientation
Enable problem solving in a safe environment. Encourage children to solve puzzles with increasing levels of difficulty, so they learn to focus on solutions and moving ahead without getting frustrated. Strong solution orientation enables children to think clearly as they grow older and face challenges. For example, if they encounter a flat tire during a road trip, they will try to either change the tire or get help from a mechanic instead of having an angry outburst!
Children with a strong sense of moral values are able to build healthy relationships with others. However, ‘character’ has to be reinforced each day, with patience and love. Children do not know any better; and hence it is on parents to ensure strong traits of good character are understood, imbibed and exhibited!
‘Our ability to handle life’s challenges is a measure of our strength of character’.