Written by Andrea Knox, former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development & Resiliency Field Specialist.
“If we don’t role model what we teach, we are teaching something else.” -Unknown
When people have strong character they are able to make wise choices and become stable contributing members of society. Children with positive character traits also enjoy an increased sense of self-worth and confidence knowing they have a set of values to base decisions on. Young people receive many messages concerning character from the media, peers and other influences. Therefore, parents need to take an active role in developing their child’s character and be a strong voice for positive character traits. This includes communication through both word and action. Let’s explore ways to promote positive character traits through the following tips Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings, offers to spark conversation and inspire others to consider a list that works for them.
Notice acts of kindness in your child.
- Be sure to notice and praise children for their acts of kindness, generosity and thoughtfulness.
Notice acts of kindness and decent behavior in others.
- Become aware of what you are talking about with others. What topics do you discuss at work? What gossip is talked about with friends? It’s often the appalling behaviors that get attention. Let’s begin talking to one another about positive things others do every day that go unnoticed. In other words, “Let’s redefine our heroes and minimize our scandals and do it in front of kids.” If we don’t, we risk the chance of exposing children to a world much worse than it is, having an effect on how they view and interact in the world.
Treat each other well.
- Children are keenly aware of how adults treat each other. Whether married, divorced, separated or never married, children notice how parents are talking to one another. When treating each other with respect and patience children remember. When problems are discussed openly with thoughtfulness and resolved children learn it is okay to voice opinions and disagreements can be resolved respectfully.
Treat strangers well.
- Children learn character traits such as compassion through witnessing how you interact with others. No words can ever have as lasting impression on your child as the behavior you display.
Reinforce the importance of including all children.
- Childhood certainly is full of joy and innocence, but it can sometimes become centered on cliques or in-groups and out-groups. Instill confident values in your child by helping her realize the importance of other children’s feelings, while still maintaining best friendships. Having a wide variety of friendships is a wonderful asset. What a great quality it is children have when they choose friends for themselves instead of based on what others think or say.
Promote responsibility. Don’t spoil your children.
- Taking responsibility when things go wrong and then work to improve is a trait of resilient people. If taught to take responsibility for their actions, children will learn the cause and effect of good behavior and good works. Help children learn to be patient. If they want something they may have to wait until a birthday and work towards it. It is okay to explain that something is just too expensive too. Listen to your children and give them undivided attention, provide a safe home, adequate clothing, nutritious food and a few toys on special occasions, but don’t give into tantrums or the must have item of the week.
Work towards a better world.
- Volunteering is a wonderful service, maybe you don’t have time to volunteer for several causes, but you have time to call a relative, pick up trash as you’re walking by it, and open the door for the person behind you in the grocery store. It’s the small things that collectively can make a difference too.
- An unfortunate trait that can surface is dividing “us” and “them.” Prejudice can often be unconscious based on judgments made with limited information and preventing us from getting to know one another. Children will thrive in the world if they are raised in an environment free of bias. Expose children to positive messages of diverse groups.
Believe in something bigger.
- Whatever the something bigger may be. Something greater to turn to and the common connection with others can provide children with many character building lessons.
- We are all human. Our challenge is to work so our better selves prevail over our unattractive, even destructive impulses.
Consider the following questions posed by Dr. Ginsburg on his website to ponder how you contribute to the character development of your youth.
- Do I help my child understand how his behaviors affect other people in good and bad ways?
- Am I helping my child recognize himself as a caring person?
- Do I allow him to clarify his own values?
- Do I allow him to consider right versus wrong and look beyond immediate satisfaction or selfish needs?
- Do I value him so clearly that I model the importance of caring for others?
- Do I demonstrate the importance of community?
- Do I help him develop a sense of spirituality?
- Am I careful to avoid racist, ethnic, or hateful statements or stereotypes? Am I clear how I regard these thoughts and statements whenever and wherever my child is exposed to them?
- Do I express how I think of others’ needs when I make decisions or take actions?
South Dakota 4-H promotes positive character through a variety of character education programs. For more information, visit the 4-H Personal Development community on iGrow or contact Karelyn Farrand, 4-H Youth Character Education Field Specialist.
Next time we will continue to explore Dr. Ginsburg’s seven “C’s” of resiliency and discuss contribution.
For more information, visit the Fostering Resilience website or read the book Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg.