Building Character: Giving Your Child the Gift of Values
Posted on January 3, 2018 by CHS
Our character is like an internal compass. It is a complex set of values that guide what we believe and how we behave. It is the driving force behind our actions and choices in life, and it has a profound influence on our success. Our character is shaped by our personalities, experiences, social interactions, and by the values we learned from our families when we were young.
Everyone has their own unique set of values, or character traits, that make up the inner core of who they are. Take a moment to look at this list of values and identify those which you feel are important. You can make a list of the values you would want your child to have, and then number them from the most important value to the least important.
After reading this list, it is easy to see why the values that make up someone’s character are unique. Nobody will have the exact same values, or place the same level of importance on one value over another. As you review your own list, think about how you learned these values, and how you can teach them to your child.
Ideas for Teaching Your Child Values
Children learn most of their values through daily interactions. They observe the behavior of adults and other children around them, and mimic them. This means that the most important thing you can do to give your child the gift of strong values, is to model them. Be an example of who you hope your child will be one day.
Keep in mind that values like respect and loyalty go both ways. That means that if you want your child to respect you, you need to show her respect first. For example, when your infant needs to have her diaper changed, take a moment to say, “I see your diaper needs to be changed. Can I change your diaper?” Hold your hands out and wait for her to respond by lifting her arms or vocalizing. This teaches her that asking permission to touch someone is respectful.
You can also model respect by teaching your child appropriate manners for talking on the phone, eating at the table, being introduced to someone, or being a guest in someone’s home. Start with simple manners like saying “please” and “thank you.” As your child grows, add a few more phrases such as “please use an inside voice” and “when someone else is talking, you need to wait your turn.” Eventually you can teach your child how to answer the phone, set the table, and use table manners (waiting to eat until everyone is served, keeping elbows off the table, etc.).
Look for opportunities to model specific values. If you want to teach your child about responsibility, you might start the day by gathering what you need and saying, “I have all the things I will need today. These are the things I am responsible for. What will you need today?” Help your child to make sure what he needs is in his backpack. At the end of the day, remind him that he is responsible for unpacking his backpack, taking his lunch pail to the kitchen, and doing his homework. Children can also take responsibility for simple chores like picking up their laundry, making their bed, or keeping their room clean. To learn more, read our blog on Age Appropriate Chores.
Read books aloud with your child every day. Select books with stories that discuss the character traits you value, or books with heroes. A great book to start with is Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud. If you are not sure what books to choose, you can ask the children’s librarian for help, or take a look at this book list by Scholastic. School age children can read Aesop’s Fables, which are short stories that teach morals, and you can discuss the lesson of the story. There are more read aloud books featured under the “Books for Further Reading” section below.
Some values on the above list go together well. An example would be: community, citizenship, empathy, and service. You can show your child the importance of all of these values by volunteering in the community. This can include picking up trash during a walk, helping a neighbor, participating in a school fundraising event, or donating goods to a local shelter or food pantry. For more ideas, read our blog on Raising an Empathetic Child.
You can model happiness, harmony, love, friendship, humor, resilience, and loyalty by simply spending time together as a family. The relationship that you build with your child, and that your child builds with other children in his family will be a constant source of strength and a circle of support for your child. For ideas of family activities read our brochure Family Time: Keeping Family a Priority, or read one of our family activity blogs. Whenever you spend time together as a family, your child will have the opportunity to learn values from you.
Making a list of the values you want your child to have, and reflecting on how you can model and teach those values, will make you more aware of the example you set. Surround your child with family and friends who share similar values and can help you build your child’s character. Dorothy Law Nolte wrote a poem in 1954 called “Children Learn What They Live.” The words of her poem are still true today. Children still learn from their daily experiences, and those experiences shape their character, self-esteem, and success in life.
Books for Further Reading:
- 10-Minute Life Lessons for Kids: 52 Fun & Simple Games & Activities to Teach Kids by Jamie C. Miller
- Becoming the Parent You Want to Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser (contributor)
- Character Building Day by Day: 180 Quick Read-Alouds for Elementary School and Home by Anne D. Mather and Louise B. Weldon
- How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough
- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
- If You Had to Choose, What Would You Do? by Sandra Mcleod Humphrey
- Teaching Your Children Values by Richard and Linda Eyre
- What Do You Stand For? For Kids: A Guide to Building Character by Barbara A. Lewis
References and Resources:
- 100 Kid’s Activities to Build Character by Moments a Day: http://www.momentsaday.com/100-kids-activities-to-build-character/
- Character Counts program: https://charactercounts.org/program-overview/six-pillars/
- Character Education in Pre-K and Kindergarten by Scholastic: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/blog-posts/allie-magnuson/character-education-in-prek-and-kindergarten/
- Character Education: Preschool Activities and Crafts by First School: http://www.first-school.ws/theme/character-education.htm
- Happiness Leads to Better Health by the California Childcare Health Program: https://cchp.ucsf.edu/sites/cchp.ucsf.edu/files/Happiness0209.pdf
- Instilling Values by Family Education: https://www.familyeducation.com/kids/instilling-values
- Talking with Trees (informational website): https://talkingtreebooks.com/definition/what-is-character-definition.html
- Teaching Your Children Basic Manners by The Spruce: https://www.thespruce.com/teaching-your-children-basic-manners-1216584