The purpose of a family is to instill moral and ethical limits through the nurturing of children, notes Michael J. Meyer, associate professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University. Although each family might have a different priority list for virtues, the goal is to instill a personal moral compass in each of your children that motivates them to behave with honor and to care for others.
The best way to teach children good behavior is to model good behavior, according to Multiplying Connection, a project of The Health Federation of Philadelphia. You cannot effectively teach your child virtues and moral behavior if you do not display those character traits yourself. Determine to display the character traits you most want to see in your child, such as kindness, respect, compassion and courage. You can teach by a negative example, revealing the consequences of poor choices, but it is more likely that your child will embrace your vices than try to reflect the virtue.
Choose the Virtues
As a parent, you can choose the virtues that are more important to you and focus on those first and foremost. You don’t have to teach them all at the same time, although the sooner you begin focusing on them, the sooner your children will begin adopting them. A list of virtues you might want to consider include compassion, creativity, honesty, patience, love, service, respect, courage, mercy, obedience, forgiveness and generosity. While there are numerous virtues, defining those that are most important to you gives you a target for which you can aim.
Teaching with Stories
You can read stories that display one or more virtues or the consequences of the mirror vice and follow it with a discussion of how to put the virtue into practice. “The Book of Virtues” edited by former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett provides many stories that teach moral values. After reading a story, ask your children, “What qualities does the main character display?” and “Did she make good choices or poor choices?” Bennett points out that sometimes displaying the contrasting vice is also effective in teaching moral behavior. Stories can help a child see how to put a virtue into action. For example, the Good Samaritan displays compassion and kindness toward the beaten man. Once your child identifies the practice in the story, you can discuss other ways to show compassion and kindness, such as befriending a new class member, sharing what you have with someone who has none and talking gently with someone who is hurt or sad.
More Teaching Opportunities
You can create your own story by role playing a virtue in various scenarios. When your children see the virtue in action, they might have an easier time identifying the correct response when a similar situation arises. You can also use art to teach a virtue by finding pictures of the virtue in action, such as a mother tenderly comforting a crying child, a worker handing out supplies to the survivors of a disaster, or comparing a person standing tall with confidence and another person slumped with self-doubt and fear.