Sometimes when I start discussing character building with parents, they ask me which virtue they should start teaching their child about first. My personal answer is not a straight forward one, as I think this depends on many factors.
With young children, choosing a virtue they have heard about before – such as love – is a nice route to go. This way the children can begin to put together the information they already understand about what the character trait is, and start to think about how it feels to practice and/or see it in practice. As they develop a working knowledge of what it means to practice character traits, they can learn about more complex ones, such as truthfulness.
With older children, keeping the learning relevant to what they are interested in has proven very useful in our family. If your child loves superheroes, you can create capes and pretend to rescue people – to learn about empathy and service to others. Many playful situations can be turned into opportunities for growing a child’s understanding of various character traits.
On the other hand, you may like to choose a character trait that you feel your child would benefit from utilizing in their current circumstances. For example, if your five year old is having trouble getting ready for school in the morning you may like to explore the concept of responsibility and create a challenge to take care of all morning responsibilities before a certain time. This can turn a frustrating daily occurence into a more positive character building exercise.
Making the learning fun is the key, in my opinion, as well as making sure discussion around the topics of character traits is a regular/every day occurrence. All positive thoughts and behaviors will benefit each other. Once children see how character traits can empower them to work through situations – and view their challenges with the question of “What character trait will help me right now?” – they will be eager to learn more.
My new ebook How to Build Character at Home gives lots of practical ideas for adding character building into family life. You can read more about it here.
A few months ago, I asked the question: What character trait (or virtue) do you want to help your child develop and why?
I loved reading the answers, some of which I have shared below:
“I want to help my son develop the virtue of patience. I feel like I have been less than patient lately and it absolutely affects how I interact with my family, myself and the world! When I am able to be patient with myself and others I am more likely to be compassionate to my/their feelings and less likely to overreact and say or do something that I feel is not the most loving thing ever. I guess it can be true that we teach what we most need to learn.” – Beth
“I have the privilege of having many, many children. I work for an NGO in Gauteng, South Africa… we provide early learning for children in urban and rural communities who have no access to any learning opportunities… My wish is for these precious children, who at a very young age face heartache, despair and many challenges, that they will learn how to love despite their circumstances…” – Venessa
“One trait that stands out above all, in my opinion, is righteousness. If I’m able to give them good values, I’m hoping that they will not hesitate to put them to practice. Not everybody will respect your values or abide by them but if you are able to stand by your own beliefs, it won’t matter what effect a bully at school or work or a growing trend might have. You have your values and by being righteous, you’re able to practice them.” – Taraneh
“What I have come to realise is that the top character trait I would like to help my boys develop is self sufficiency, both internal and external. Internal meaning having a deep assurance and self worth that they are good (complete, sufficient) just as they are, and that their joy comes from within rather than being dependent on any external factor. External self sufficiency means having that confidence and resourcefulness to tackle any challenge that they encounter, whether it is figuring out a puzzle or realising a lifelong goal.” – Leian
“I would like my 5 little loves to have a number of character traits. I guess one of the top would be generosity. I see that with a number of kids in the house they could tend to be either generous or selfish. I would like to foster the generosity (among other traits).” – Brandi
You can see more thoughtful answers in this post. Feel free to leave your own thoughts about if there is a most important character trait, as well.
As you can see, all the character traits are important and everyone will have their own reasons for focusing on different traits with their kids. No matter where you start, you will be making a big difference – in your relationship with your child and for their emotional and social development to become a more conscious and caring individual.
Would you like more ideas to build character at home? Check out my ebook full of practical tips – How to Build Character at Home.
You may also like to browse the activities I have shared on the blog which you can find here.