“How dare you think that you can teach character!” was a comment left by a parent on our Facebook page. “Ouch,” I thought.
But, I know that we can – I can, you can, we all can. If any parent is under the illusion that only they can teach their child character, well, I think that’s sad.
As a child, I was taught character by many people – my parents and other adults. There were two common factors in those who were successful in slowly, gradually, but steadily, improving my character: patience and love.
I know this truth: you cannot help others improve their character unless they know that you love them beyond a shadow of a doubt. Unless we know that someone loves us and has our best interest at heart, it is difficult for us to soften our hearts toward them enough to allow them to influence our character and moral compass. It always starts and ends with love.
When I was in the 4th grade, I cheated on a social studies test. My teacher, Mr. Luckett, picked up my test and saw the notes I had hidden under my test. He asked what they were, but I lied and said I didn’t know they were on my desk. He just nodded and kept moving. You see, Mr. Luckett was my favorite teacher. I was lost in his class and struggled to learn, but he was always kind. Honestly, I struggled in many of my classes. After class that day, he never said a word, and I moved to my English class.
I felt consumed with guilt by the time I got to my English class. During English class, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went up to my teacher, tears streaming down my face, and told her that I needed to talk to Mr. Luckett. She walked me down to his class and asked him to come out into the hallway, where I gathered the courage through many tears and heaving breaths to confess my betrayal of his confidence.
Later in the day, when I was calmer, he came and walked me to an empty gym (a female teacher accompanied us). He invited me to sit down on the bleachers and asked me why I felt the need to cheat. I don’t remember what I said but, I do remember how I felt. I knew he cared about me. He reminded me of that through his words and the way he spoke to me. I decided at that moment that I never wanted to feel like that again. I didn’t like how it felt disappointing someone whom I respected.
He helped develop my character because instead of condemnation, he sought understanding. He taught me other options I could do when I felt overwhelmed or lost in my classes. He reminded me that I was a good girl and that he knew I was good. He reminded me that he had confidence in me and my mistake did not represent who I was. He accepted my behavior as a mistake, not a representation of me. That was huge for me.
Parents, hopefully, our children will be surrounded by people who have their best interests at heart. How do we teach character to our children and other children that we come into contact with? We remember a few things:
- Showing every child that they are valued and loved by the way we speak to them and treat them.
- Never allowing a child’s mistake to become the focal point of who they are. We do this by never saying things like, “You are dishonest” or “You are selfish”. Instead, we might say, “That was a dishonest answer” or “That was a selfish decision.”
- Continuously showing each child how much we believe in them and their ability to make good choices by being their biggest cheerleader. We do this by saying things such as, “I know it’s difficult but I believe in you” or “I love how you are always striving to make the right choice, even though it’s painful to do so sometimes,” etc.
- Reminding ourselves that it’s difficult to always make the right choice. You and I don’t make the right choice each day, and neither will our children. But, we can learn from our wrong choices and give each other and ourselves more grace.
Yes, character can be taught. It is best taught by example. One thing that cripples too many parents’ ability to influence their children is when there is hypocrisy between what they tell their kids to do and what they do themselves. Children are so smart. For them to respect us enough to listen to us, they have to believe that we, too, are trying our best to live what we profess to believe.
Developing character is a life-long journey, not a race. We are on the same journey as our children, trying to be a little better today than we were yesterday. Some days we do better than other days. May we never give up on ourselves or anyone else. Just keep going.
For resources to help you teach the skills of character, good manners, and life skills, please visit our website at www.TheEtiquetteFactory.com.