The character of a person is defined as “the mental and moral qualities distinct to an individual.” Sometimes, we hear the phrases, “he was a man of good character” or “that was out of character for her.” We know that a strong character is an important part of being a good and well-adjusted person. However, as parents, have we put enough emphasis on making sure that we raise children of character? Dr. Thomas Lickona, a well-respected educator and author, offers these 10 Principles on Raising Children of Character.
1) Make Character Development a High Priority
Dr. Lickona suggests that see our children as adults-in-the-making and ask ourselves, “What kind of character do we want our kids to possess when they become adults? Do we want them to be kind? Will they be responsible citizens of our society?” We need to ask ourselves if our parenting approach is likely to produce the kind of adults we want our children to be.
2) Be an Authoritative Parent
According to child psychologist Dr. Diana Baumrind, there are three styles of parenting – authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive. Authoritarian parents use a lot of commands and threats to make their children obey them but not enough reasoning. Permissive parents are high on affection but low on authority. The best kind, in Dr. Lickona’s opinion, is authoritative – high on authority, reasoning, fairness, and love. These types of parents explain the reasons behind commands and encourages give and take. Studies find that children who are most self-confident and socially responsible are the products of authoritative parenting.
3) Love Your Children
Love is an essential part of parenting. When children feel loved by their parents, they establish a healthy attachment to them. It is this attachment that makes kids receptive to guidance. A good way of demonstrating your love to your kids is to ensure that you have ample one-on-one time with them. This special time makes your child feel that he is special to you and is also a great way to get to know your child more.
4) Teach by Example
It’s often said that children do what they see, not what they are told. We have to remember that our kids are always watching us, and we need to be good role models to them. They will pick up their beliefs on sex, alcohol, violence, caring for the environment, and more, from what they see in us. We need to know where we stand on important issues and demonstrate our beliefs in our actions.
5) Manage the Moral Environment
We also need to take a hands-on approach to managing what our children is exposed to – the shows they watch, the games they play, who they hang out with. Studies show that parents who know what’s happening in their children’s lives have teens with lower rates of sexual activity, and drug and alcohol use. We should also consciously expose them to shows, movies, news articles, that offer positive role models and uplifting stories.
6) Use Direct Teaching to Form Habits and Conscience
Sometimes, we need to preach what we practice. Direct moral teaching helps develop a child’s habits and conscience. For example, we can explicitly say the following lines: “Say please and thank you.” “Don’t interrupt when others are talking, wait for them to finish.” “This is how we live.” This also includes explaining WHY we believe in those things.
7) Discipline Wisely
Parents need to set expectations early and clearly and hold their kids accountable to these expectations. When the child is not able to live up to a particular expectation, parents need to respond in way that’s clear and firm, but not harsh, in order to teach the child effectively.
8) Solve Conflicts Fairly
Conflicts are inevitable and provide good opportunities to foster character development. In any conflict, both parties should make each of their sides heard and must also listen to the other party. After understanding each other’s take on the conflict, brainstorming an agreement on how to move forward is a good exercise in how to solve conflicts fairly.
9) Provide Opportunities to Practice Virtues
Being responsible for chores around the house is a good way to put the virtues you want your children to learn into action. Kids can’t learn character from just talking about it. They need to be lived out and practiced in daily life. For example, young children can be in charge of clearing the table. This is a good way to teach responsibility early in life.
10) Foster Spiritual Development
It is definitely possible to have good character without being religious. Having religious faith and going to Church regularly also does not guarantee that a person will be good. However, for many people, it does work to believe in a religion. It makes them feel that they are accountable to a higher being. This might work for your family, but it is not necessary for everybody.