“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”
– Robert Fulghum, Author
Good character, or virtue, is the habit of behaving in the right way morally and ethically. Parents have two responsibilities:
- to model good character in their own lives, and
- to intentionally foster proper character development in their young.
Parents are role models. We are always modeling. Children, on both a conscious and subconscious level, absorb everything we say and do, and then imitate our example, whether it’s good or bad. It is thought that the environment of the child, which consists of family interactions and the behaviours, beliefs, and attitudes of parents, directly affects the child’s subconscious mind and behaviour, perhaps throughout their lifetime.
If you are unhappy with what your children are saying and doing, it’s time to wonder if you are the cause. Perhaps you need to start behaving differently to bring about change in the way your children behave.
“Children develop character by what they see, what they hear, and what they are repeatedly led to do.”
James Stenson, consultant, educator, speaker and writer on family concerns
The need for effective character education is clear. The family is the moral and ethical foundation for virtue. It is where we first learn about love, honesty, the value of working hard, sacrifice, and respect for something more than just ourselves.
There are potential dangers in virtues education if approached and implemented incorrectly. It’s so easy to be judgemental and lace our conversations with labels such as, honest, dishonest, fair, unfair, sensitive, insensitive, ambitious, lazy, and on and on. Evaluations and judgements are hurtful, especially to young children. Instead of labelling children with simplistic adjectives or nouns; use verbs that describe the specific behaviour.
A second danger is the “one size fits all” mentality. We are all unique. We see, feel, and value things differently. Since no two parents and no two children are the same, under the same set of circumstances outcomes may be different for each of us. The appropriate processes will also vary, so be flexible when choosing your strategy and how to implement it.
Other guidelines to learning, modelling, and teaching virtuous habits are:
- Set a good example;
- Have high expectations;
- Make sure rules are sensible and authentic;
- Insist on good manners;
- Practice together;
- Share your experiences and feelings;
- Discuss what works and what doesn’t;
- Talk about what’s right and what’s wrong;
- Learn more about virtues by reading about them;
- Take the long term view; and
- Be careful about wanting to extinguish certain habits; some negative behaviours or attributes in children may be perceived as positive in adults; a stubborn and demanding child may be showing the persistence we value in an adult.
Virtue by itself is no guarantee of right action. More than just good intentions is required. In addition, we need both the wisdom to know what the right thing to do is, and the will to do it.
“It’s not only our children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach out for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.”
– Joyce Maynard, author