Some things you don’t necessarily learn in school. Character is one of them. Character is the internal compass that will influence your child’s choices and life direction in many ways. And it’s something you can teach at home.
by Cathy Lumsden
“The Unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates
As a child you bop along, playing, learning and steering through the days totally oblivious to the fact you are creating your personal foundation: It’s called character. Character is important as it directly impacts your well-being and your life success.
Collins English Dictionary defines it as “the combination of traits and qualities distinguishing the individual nature of a person or thing.” It’s an internal compass that influences your life in many ways.
Is There A Difference Between Character and Personality?
Although character and personality are often used interchangeably, there is a difference. You are born with your personality, whereas you learn character by observing your parents, teachers and environment. Your character is closely linked to your belief systems and values.
Psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman divide character into six categories in their book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification:
Wisdom and Knowledge: Creativity, Curiosity, Judgment and Open-Mindedness, Love of Learning, Perspective
Courage: Bravery, Perseverance, Honesty, Zest
Humanity: Capacity to Love and Be Loved, Kindness, Social Intelligence
Justice: Teamwork, Fairness, Leadership
Temperance: Forgiveness and Mercy, Modesty and Humility, Prudence, Self-Regulation
Transcendence: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humour, Religiousness and Spirituality
Obviously, each of these character traits can be described with different words. For example, social intelligence and cooperation with others can be used interchangeably. In the Transcendence or Humanity categories, I would also add social interest and community-mindedness. Alfred Adler coined the term social interest, and he defined it as an attitude of furthering the welfare of others. In this era of selfies, social interest is a necessity.
Tips to Teach Your Kids Character:
1 – What is your character? Who are you? Who do you want to be in order to be successful in life? The best way to start is by asking yourself these questions. This isn’t always an easy task. The six categories outlined above may serve as a good starting point for self-reflection.
2 – Deliberately model to your children how you are building your character traits. For example, when I was writing my first book I told my daughters that I needed to increase, and focus on, my determination and creativity. I also explained that I was teaching myself to be methodical by setting small goals. One strategy was to have a friend be my cheerleader to keep me going when the going got rough.
3 – Create opportunities with your children to talk about individuals who inspire them. You can choose a specific time to discuss or randomly mention character traits of people while watching a movie or TV show. These people can be cartoon characters, local heroes, athletes, musicians, friends or relatives. Ask your children what they like about these people and why they inspire them. Help them see and put words to the character traits they admire.
4 – Add a novel idea to your conversations: internal motivation. Ask your children how they feel when they do well on a test, in a volleyball match, or playing the flute. Ask yourself how you feel when you do well at something. Teaching yourself and your children to focus on internal motivation instead of external praise will help them—and you—build a very important pillar of character.
5 – Create a chart or vision board with your kids to describe who they are and who they want to be in order to be happy and fulfilled in life. Use magazines or craft supplies to make it fun. Ask them to cut out pictures and words to represent the character traits they want to focus on for the next month. Next, plan a later time to review how and when they identified or built those character traits.
6 – Teach your children how to journal. To start, show them how to stop and think about who they are, how they behave, and how they feel. They can be self-reflective by writing, drawing or talking to others.
I believe children and teenagers desire to be strong and humane; sometimes they require a little assistance along the way. As a parent, you are like the guardrails of the Golden Gate Bridge— the stable boundary to keep them from falling over. Since they’ll bounce around and against the guardrails, you need to take care of yourself so you can take care of them.
Cathy is a psychotherapist, researcher and international speaker with years of experience counselling adults, families, teenagers and children. Contact her at Adlerian Counselling and Consulting Group, 613 737-5553.