Parents of school-aged children get busy, and sometimes focus on their children's negative behaviors. It's important to know that as a parent, you have the power to create teachable moments to introduce your children to developing positive character traits that will serve them well all their lives. Parents don't have to take a passive role, feeling frustrated with the values in movies, society and media that impact their children and teens. Instead, you and your partner can be the choreographers in teaching your children to be virtuous.
Grandparents, aunts and uncles can also make valuable contributions by teaching positive character traits, and discussing them with the young people whose lives you touch.
To get started, you will need to make a list of the character virtues that you admire in people. Here are some to consider, but you can develop a list of your own personal favorites:
• Tenacity/ Perseverance
• Love of learning
• Personal leadership
• Cultivating joy/happiness
• Appreciation of beauty
• Social responsibility/service
• Humanity (caring for others)
You might begin by choosing which trait you want to focus on with the young person/people in your life for the next month. I generally encourage parents to begin with the virtue you believe your children are most needing for their development. For example, if your children argue with each other and annoy each other, you may want to begin with focusing on teamwork.
If you hold weekly family meetings, as I encourage all the families I work with in family counseling to do, the meeting is a great time to introduce this month's virtue. You can have one of the children make a poster to hang up in the kitchen about that value, and have each family member add examples that they see at the next family meeting.
Make a plan for how you can teach the value of each trait. You can discuss it, help the child make an art project/collage demonstrating it, do some volunteer work together to experience it, or go on an outing together to explore it. You can look for examples of a particular character trait in the news or within the people you each know and talk about it. Asking children to watch for an example that they see among their friends of a particular virtue is fun and engages them. If you are teaching about service, perhaps you can do some volunteer work as a family as well as have each family member do random acts of kindness for others and compare notes.
Have some fun and be creative. I can remember being a child and learning about choosing a positive attitude by having a hall table with an empty drawer that we pulled a smile from each day when we left the house. Small children love to use their imaginations to learn things.
Grandparents can share stories about family members and others who demonstrated living the virtue you wish to help develop.
Parents, as well as family therapists, too often focus on negative behaviors. Helping actively develop character virtues and strengths is a healthy way to help create a next generation who are wise, transcend self, humane towards others, self-motivated and wonderful to be in relationship with. I can't think of a better legacy to leave behind us.