For those teaching or raising children, the phrase “character traits” refers not so much to a child’s personality, but those traits that reveal her ethical and moral grounding. Social and religious ethics are taught in many cultures starting at a very early age and reinforced through formal spiritual/religious teaching, home and social situations, formal education and parental example. Most parents believe that building strong character traits in their children is part of the job of parenting.
There can be little doubt that having what is called a “good character” aids a child in life. Dependability and honesty, for example, are highly prized character traits in most cultures. Most families believe these traits can help a child become responsible and respectful as he grows up. Most parenting authorities encourage parents to begin training their child in positive character traits at an early age and to continually reinforce that training in clear and consistent ways through the child’s upbringing.
Valued character traits are not hard to locate in most cultures. In the U.S., for example, being busy, active, productive, persevering and industrious are all highly prized traits. Many attribute such traits to a “good upbringing” and feel they indicate a hardworking and honest outlook on life. Similarly, being conscientious, capable, cheerful, honest, sincere and trustworthy are also valued. These traits are considered to be the sign of a person who was raised in a stable home and received some moral and/or religious instruction in what might be termed proper behavior.
According to the website Character-In-Action, there are 66 basic character traits that parents, educators, counselors and coaches should try to instill in children. Character traits should therefore form the basis for training in the home, for “authentic character” education in schools, for character building, for personal counseling and for life coaching. The 66 traits range from appreciation, commitment and confidence to loyalty, persuasiveness and purpose. They also include more emotionally and mentally based traits, such as creativity, humility, kindness, optimism, integrity, love and gratitude.
Ideally, a child will have at least one parent in her life on whom she can rely and who will help her to build positive character traits. Admittedly, helping a children develop a solid character can take real energy, time and dedication, but there are a few general ideas to keep in mind. For one, the parenting role must come first in a parent’s life, regardless of time constraints or demands. This means spending time with your children on a regular basis. A child will notice a parent’s example, whether the parent is aware of this or not, so setting a good example with positive parental behavior is very important. Studies show that regardless of the peer pressure at school, the biggest influence in molding a child’s character traits is the child’s own family.
Watch and Listen
Parents must also be vigilant about what children view on television and the Internet, the types of video games they play, the books and magazines they read, and the music they listen to. These all influence a child strongly and can lead to impulsive behavior that overrides good character training, particularly in teens. Parents also need to take the time to actively listen to what their children are saying and, when speaking, to use clear language that is consistently direct and unambiguous in meaning.
Responsible methods of correction need to be found and used consistently to address a child’s bad speech or behavior. Using a “time-out” period, for instance, is the preferred method among psychologists and educators at present. Family meal time is also vitally important. This time has been shown in studies to be vital to teaching social roles, social manners and ethical standards to children. Though this tradition is far less evident now in American life, even four family meals each week can do much to reinstate it.