One of the most important jobs we do as a parent is build the characters of our children. Positive traits like compassion, kindness, confidence, growth mindset don’t magically appear overnight—they take practice, patience and gentle reinforcement.
Try these 6 smart strategies to help you successfully develop good character in your child and instill important characteristics that will help your kids succeed.
1. Provide specific verbal encouragement.
When you give comments specific to a character aspect you wish to develop in your child, you’re providing your child with some subtle directions about how to behave.
For example, if you want your child to value friendships and being a good friend, you could offer feedback such as, “You’re a very good friend to Sam because you let him go first when he comes over to play.”
To reinforce your child’s efforts to be polite and understanding, let your child know you notice his polite and understanding ways through comments such as, “Wow, that was really nice of you to keep your cool when your sister took your candy.”
When you want to instill honesty in your child, you could say something like “I like the way you were honest about not brushing your teeth. Let’s go brush them now.”
2. Volunteer together.
Even young children can be taken to the homeless shelter to hand out sandwiches. Instill the value of helping others by introducing your child to volunteer activities. When you help others in the presence of your child, he sees that volunteering to help others is important.
3. Give separate consequences for being untruthful.
Parents often struggle to figure out how to encourage truthful behavior. One way to extinguish lying behaviors is to issue a separate consequence for the act of lying itself.
Technically, there will be times when you’re providing 2 consequences: a consequence for the untruth told as well as for the unacceptable behavior. For example, if your child told you he got his homework done and an hour later you discover he didn’t, you’d give 2 consequences.
One consequence would be for telling a lie and the other for not getting his homework done. This suggested parenting technique discourages lying and encourages truth-telling.
You can explain that “If you would have told the truth about not getting your homework done, you would have been grounded for 2 days. Now, since you lied about it, that’s another 2 days of grounding.”
4. Briefly discuss important traits.
As a parent, you can teach patience by talking about how we all must occasionally wait in lines. Give examples like how you wait your turn at the grocery store or the doctor’s office. Explain it’s the normal way of things whenever there are a lot of people involved.
5. Model character traits that matter to you.
Of course, the best way to build character is to demonstrate positive traits in the company of others. If you want your children to have good character, keep in mind you’re their best model. In everything you do, vow to “be the lesson” that’s best learned through observation.
6. Teach kids the habit of daily journaling.
According to research by Howard Gardner, the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, great leaders take time to reflect every day. Get a kid-friendly journal, such as the I AM A LEADER: A 90-Day Leadership Journal for Kids, and help them embark on this journey of self-discovery.
As you practice these methods, recognize you’re instilling a sense of morality in your kids, so they know how to determine what the right choice is.
You have the awesome power to build your child’s character. Take advantage of this power by using it wisely and your kids will enjoy these values and skills for their entire lives.