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How to Develop Character in Children
One of the most important responsibilities of parents and teachers is to develop character in children. Books can help, but there’s no substitute for example and personal coaching. Children emulate the behaviors they see and the values those behaviors reflect. Here are a few ways to help instill the virtues in children that form character.
The Significance of Good Character
You will need to recall and reflect on the significance of good character. Why is it so important for us to work on character formation in our children? The answer is twofold: first, good character helps keep them out of trouble by making ethical behavior automatic, and second, it is necessary (though not sufficient) for human happiness (conceived as a whole life, well lived). Everyone’s ultimate desire is for happiness. Well, as the great Greek philosophers pointed out, it’s hard to really get there without good character driving one’s behavior.
What Good Character Means
You need to focus on what good character means. It is the predisposition to do the right thing, even in difficult circumstances, whether these are created by peer pressure, or cost us money, or cost us time, or sacrifice comfort, or require us to say no when we’d like to say yes. Good character is also known as moral virtue. Virtues are human excellences. Moral virtues are excellences of character; intellectual virtues are excellences of mind.
Demonstrate the Power of Good Character
You need to impress upon your children or students how useful some of the wisdom of the ages turns out to be. Explain why “honesty is the best policy.” Identify and discuss the four “cardinal” virtues of justice, temperance, courage and prudence and explain why they are the mainstays of human character.
Use the examples of Washington, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. to show the power of good character. Discuss how developing good character helps a person navigate the obstacles in life and eases the making of hard decisions.
Good Character Makes Doing the Right Thing Easier
Teach children that good character is empowering. It provides ethical self-confidence so that it is easier to do the right thing. It is a source of credibility and success in leadership because a person of good character is trustworthy. Good character pays off.
Character Shows Up in Behavior
Lead children by example whenever possible. Children are always looking for good role models. Parents are the most powerful models but teachers and athletic coaches count, too. Your example must be unselfish and exhibit the qualities and virtues you are trying to inculcate in the children. Behavior counts the most in life.
Character is Back, Stronger Than Ever
You should be aware that there is now a return to the ancient idea that character development is in everyone’s best interest and there are movements to emphasize character development in our communities and schools. They may use terms other than virtue and have different lists of behaviors and attributes, but they all owe an intellectual debt to those ancient philosophers who helped shape Western Civilization so much.