How are character traits developed?
It’s a given that parents want their kids to grow up with good set of values and positive character traits. Kindness, compassion, perseverance, honesty, and respect are just some of the traits we want to instill in our kids.
Charles Starkey, Associate Professor of Philosophy studies emotion theory and moral psychology. He says that character traits are determined by our values but that emotions also play a huge role. In short, kids need emotional intelligence and to notice and be influenced by positive character traits in others.
The other critical thing is consistency. This was highlighted to me when my own kids started school. I remember feeling as if many of the positive traits I’d worked so hard to nurture were starting to slip.
I knew kids with different upbringings and values would challenge their beliefs and behavior. But the thing it emphasized the most was a need to incorporate social and emotional learning and character education in the classroom.
As a parent, you do your part in nurturing good values before your kids start school. This is the basis of their character but their character will be tested. You can't control the behavior or values of the kids they hang out with so let that go. But you can remind your kids of the way you like them to speak and behave and more importantly, show them.
As a teacher, you have a lot placed upon your shoulders with an ever-broadening curriculum. Values education and SEL are important components of it and there are many useful resources and ideas to help you incorporate it.
Nurturing positive character traits at home and school
Be around positive role models
It sounds pretty obvious really. When you liken a child’s brain to a sponge that soaks up information, the significance of modelling is clear. It’s important to note that the younger a child is, the more adaptable they are. Their thought processes and behaviours are more pliable which makes it important for them to be exposed to positive role models early.
Apart from being a great role model yourself, point out the positive traits of those around you. Highlight and have conversations about good things other people do. Take time to discuss what they did, why it was positive and how it made others feel. This is a great way for kids to pick up on and understand what good behaviour looks like.
Acknowledge and appreciate good behaviour
Kids love to please the important people in their lives. When they show positive character traits make sure to acknowledge their good behaviour. Showing you appreciate what they did or said helps kids identify what you like and encourages more of it.
Teachers can use a resource that teaches, acknowledges and rewards positive character traits.
Read books that help build character
Kids are often bombarded with negative and conflicting information that challenges their standards. A good book with lessons about character can help to counter these outside influences.
Create a fun routine at bedtime where you read together and discuss topics addressed in the book. Teachers use books in the classroom to enhance lessons and find them useful as prompts for writing activities.
Check out our reading list for great picture books.
Get them involved
There really is no better teacher than experience. To really embed beautiful traits like empathy, kindness and compassion kids need to feel them. Involve your kids in kindness activities to experience the feel-good emotions produced when doing good.
Assemble backpacks with goodies for people living on the street. Here’s a helpful list of items you can include. To help them develop empathy, talk about what it might be like. Talk about not having comforts like a bed, clean clothes and regular meals. Discuss how someone might become homeless. Ask them to imagine how they’d feel if it happened to them.
Parents might like to use our free resources:
Teachers can use our downloadable resources:
Encourage emotional expression
Allow your child to express their emotions without fear of disapproval. Scolding a child for showing anger or fear won’t make those feelings go away but can mean they’re suppressed. Bottled up feelings want to escape at some point. They can take the form of unacceptable behaviour or nightmares. Listen to and recognise your child’s emotions to reinforce that they’re valid. This allows them to accept them, calm down and see them as normal.
Explain that there's a range of emotions that everyone feels. They’re all natural and it’s healthy to express them so they can process them and move on. Having emotional intelligence helps kids understand when and where they're able to express their emotions freely and when they need to control them.
Talk about it
We often take it for granted that kids know what they're feeling. This isn't always the case which can be why they may not express themselves appropriately. If you see your child is struggling with an emotion, talk about it. Ask about the feelings they’re experiencing. Talk about what happened to make them feel that way and help them label the emotion.
Talk to your teacher
If you're concerned about your child's values slipping, it's worth talking to your teacher. Have a conversation at the start of the year to explain your values and expectations. Ask your teacher how you can help ensure the values that are important to you are reinforced at school.
Ask your school to incorporate Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
This is huge! Historically, schools have had little to do with character education but that’s thankfully changing. Educationalists now acknowledge that emotional intelligence plays an important part of success in many aspects of life including academic achievement.
If your school doesn’t include SEL in their curriculum ask them to look into it. The benefits are enormous and we make it easy for teachers to improve their students (and own) wellbeing. Our evidence-based curriculum is creating safe, happy and inclusive school cultures in 6 countries. It can help your school too!