Whether it took years of heartbreak and struggle to have your child or you built your family without even trying, creating the child was the easy part. It’s far more complex to transform your child into an adult who contributes to the world around them.
As critical as it is to meet your child’s physical and educational needs, character development is crucial too. Building your child’s character works best when you start at an early age, but it’s never too late, either.
The tricky part is knowing how to go about it. If you aren’t sure what builds character, start with these key factors.
1. Leading By Example
Your child watches you far more than you realize. After all, they learned how to talk, walk, and otherwise function by watching you. That’s also how they’ll learn what type of person to be.
Be aware of how you treat people and how you handle certain situations, even when you don’t think your kids are watching. They’ll use this as a guideline for what is and isn’t okay.
2. Frank Moral Discussions
Don’t assume you need to play mind games with your child to get them to behave well. Sometimes it’s best to cut the fat and bring an issue out into the open.
Let’s say you’re out to dinner with the family and your server isn’t performing well. Your child is already witnessing your reaction, whether you treat the server rudely in response or you handle it with compassion.
When you get home, though, follow it up with a talk about the situation. Explain to them why you reacted the way you did, whether it was the right way or the wrong way. Discuss empathy and the idea of treating others the way you’d like to be treated.
3. Enduring Through Difficult Situations in a Healthy Way
When a child goes through difficult situations, it can put things into perspective. It may make them more grateful for the positive parts of their lives and show them that they can get through anything.
However, it can also go in the opposite direction. Hard times can make a child (or an adult) become bitter and make them feel like the world is against them. That tends to lead to poor behavior and an “I’ll get you before you get me” mentality.
When your child goes through disappointments and struggles, you need to guide them through it. Keep an open dialogue about what they’re going through and how it’s helping them grow as a person.
At the same time, let them know that it’s okay to feel sad and upset when unfortunate things happen. Teach them that dealing with their emotions is what allows them to move past them and become a stronger person as a result.
4. Working Hard and Seeing a Benefit
This is another piece of conventional wisdom that’s only half correct. People say that hard work builds character, but your child’s mindset about that hard work matters, too.
Teach your child to see the benefit that comes for the work they do, even if it’s not the benefit they expected. This allows them to have a positive view of hard work and see that it always has an upside, rather than teaching them to avoid work at all costs.
For example, perhaps your child wants to win an essay contest. They put a lot of work, planning, and time into an essay and they’re proud of the finished piece. Then they don’t win the contest.
Talk to your child about what they gained with all that hard work. They may not have won the contest but now they have a great essay to use in future portfolios. They’ve also gotten a lot of great practice in writing essays so it’ll be easier the next time.
5. Character Education Courses
Character building doesn’t need to come from real-life experiences alone. If your child does better with a more direct approach, consider a character education program.
These courses walk your child through key principles of character and morality. It teaches them how to treat others with respect and how to keep a positive, healthy outlook.
This is especially helpful for teaching your child about principles they might not encounter in daily life based on your circumstances. For example, let’s say you’re wealthy and your child spends all their time around other wealthy people. A character education course can teach them how to empathize with people who struggle financially.
6. Expanding Their World
Speaking of empathy, a key part of having good character is learning how to treat everyone with respect and kindness. If a child spends all their time around one type of person, they might be caught off guard when they meet someone who’s different.
You can teach your child how to empathize by surrounding them with people from different backgrounds from a young age. They’ll get used to the idea that everyone has their own perspective and will see that each person is equally valuable.
7. Practicing Self Discipline
Most parents operate on the idea of rules and consequences. If a child doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do, the parent hands down a consequence as a result.
While this is effective in many cases, there is a problem. If only authority figures are handing down consequences, kids develop the view that if an authority figure isn’t forcing them to do something, there’s no reason to do it.
Instead, give your child chances to practice self-discipline. Give them a list of chores to do but don’t give them a consequence for not completing the chores.
Another way to do this is to talk to your child about their goals. Help them outline the steps toward that goal and explain that it’s all up to them whether they hit their goal and reap the rewards.
Understanding What Builds Character
Character development is something that people often take for granted. Right and wrong seem so clear to us that we assume it’s clear to our children, too. In fact, it requires careful thought and planning, just like anything else you teach your kids.
Now that you understand the basics of what builds character, check out more articles on our blog about how to help your kids succeed.