This week, EP Blogger and counselor Scott Wardell shares his thoughts about how to build character in kids. We think you'll get a lot out of what he has to say! And please chime in if you have some good tips of your own to share. — Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor
- Make Parenting Your First Priority: Parents are busy. We go to work, pay our bills, rush ourselves and other family members to activities, visit friends and relatives and yes, try to get some sleep. But none of this busyness is real parenting. Parenting involves the raising, teaching and nurturing of a child or children. One of the main roles of a parent is to provide a safe environment where a child has a chance to grow physically, emotionally and socially. It's important that this environment allows a child an opportunity to build character. Too often, we chose to make other activities in our lives a higher priority, leaving parenting to the daycare centers, schools and activity leaders. Parenting is a privilege. Make it your first priority.
- Review Your Parenting Week: Keep a journal and record the amount of time you spend talking with your child. The average parent spends less than seven minutes speaking with their child per day. There are 1440 minutes in a day. Eat a meal together, play a game, go for a walk, read a book out loud, plant a garden or do a craft or chore together. Put an X on a calendar each day you spend at least 30 minutes with your child. Spending time with your child helps build his or her character.
- Be An Example of Good Character: We all know that our children are watching us. This does not mean that we need to be perfect. It means we need to strive to present the character that we want our children to display. As parents, we are the ones to demonstrate good manners, say please and thank you, open doors for others and apologize when we make mistakes.
- Become Aware of What Your Children are Learning In & Out of School: Character education is learned in and out of school. A Child learns from watching, hearing and doing. Do you know what your child is watching on television, seeing on video games and playing with other children? Do you know what music your child is listening to What behavior is your child exhibiting when you are next to or away from him or her? You may be thinking, How can I possibly know If your child is displaying inappropriate character or behaviors while you are around, he or she is most likely displaying similar (or poorer) behavior when you are not there to witness it. It's important, therefore, to speak with other adults that teach, lead or spend time with your child. Teachers, coaches, youth leaders and other adults who are in charge of your child during any part of the day, may act as your eyes and ears too.
- Speak the Language of Character: Our grandparents grew up during a time when a swear word or foul language was not allowed on television, in a movie or a song played on the radio. Today, it's uncommon not to hear one being used in the media forum. In a university study done by Dr. Francis Compton, he found that 87% of the 2000 students polled between the ages of 12 to 19, stated that they curse. Compton's findings also indicated many felt that vulgar slang or profanities heard on television were a normal and acceptable aspect of everyday language. In another study, Timothy Jay, a psychology professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, studying swearing trends since the 1970s, found that the Internet, television and other media may be making adolescents more comfortable with swearing, but it is their parents' own language habits that are the biggest influence. In support this finding, I surveyed hundreds of middle school children (mostly in 6th grade), over a period of fifteen years, and found that over 80% of the students surveyed shared that they have heard their parents swear at home. The language that our children hear can have a positive or negative effect on their character building traits. It's important that parents take the time to discuss what is, and what is not, appropriate language.
- Discipline With Love: The word discipline means to guide. Too often, however, we confuse the word discipline with punishment; which means, to hurt. Too many parents report that they feel guilty when they discipline their child. When, in fact, research indicates that children succeed more often when there are set limits in the home. They may ignore, or even challenge these limits on occasion, but establishing and implementing consequences is part of the learning process. Reasonable discipline is one of the ways we (as a human race) learn. While growing up, it's important for children to understand what discipline is and that it is a source of parental concern and love.
- Listen: Listen to your child. When you listen, you are teaching your child how to listen. When you look your child in the eyes while he or she is speaking, they will learn to look you in the eyes. When you speak at your child, not allowing a conversation to take place, the child learns to do the same. Listen and the child will learn to listen. Listening is a character building trait.
- Stay Aware of What Your Child is Doing In School: Getting and staying involved in your child's school life does not mean that you do their homework for them, bring items to school that they forget or bail the child out when he or she gets into trouble. It means to become aware of what is going on at school. Get to know your child's teachers names, what they teach, how to communicate with school personnel. Visit the school or teacher's Internet Web page. Encourage your child to talk about their school day and share their concerns, homework assignments, projects and activities. Again, this does not simply mean that you are sitting at the dinner table with your child every night hammering through homework. School involvement is about awareness. Your show of interest tells your child that school is important. Besides what you teach at home, school may be the next greatest influence of character building that your child will receive in his or her life. This is why school awareness is important.
- Meal or No Meal: One of the most puzzling and potentially harmful trends in America is the dying culture of family meals. Simple put, there is no better family event that keeps the all members coming back together day after day than family mealtime. No matter what cultural background you come from, it is most often food that unites us and forces us to meet. It is during this time that our children can see our parental character, watch us model appropriate behavior and, yes, teach! With all the activities that our children participate in before and after school, whether it is sports, drama, work or other activities, we have become a nation of we are too busy to sit down together one time a day and share a meal. It's hard to instill character-building techniques at a drive-through window of a fast food joint on your way to your child's next activity. Family time at the dinner table forces all of us to slow down, talk and listen to one another, eat something of nutritional value and laugh!
- Teaching Character Education In The Home: The word altruistic is seldom used to describe the character of an individual. To be altruistic is to be in deliberate pursuit of the interests or welfare of others. The meaning of virtue, empathy, dignity and values are words taught in most schools. The practice and application of these words, however, are not a part of most school programs. Although some schools teach character education, others leave these lessons to be taught at home. As parents, we must encourage our children to become the architects of their own character building. It is our role to create an environment that allows our children to pursue the building of good character.
About Scott Wardell
Scott Wardell has been a school counselor and educator for 34 years. He is the creator of SteadyParent.com: a parenting website devoted to assisting parents searching for solutions that lead to positive parenting outcomes while raising child, teens and young adults.