Building character is a tough thing to wrap your head around. You know when you meet someone who comes across as just genuinely unhappy? Like, if you smile at someone you’re passing in the store and they just glare back at you? I always wonder…what happened that they couldn’t find the silver lining?
Luckily enough, my husband and I have been on the same page about pretty much every child rearing issue there is. But when we came across ‘building character’ we were like deer in the headlights.
How do you even start to build character?
What do you do?
Where are the lessons?
Who do you test it out on?
When should you start doing it?
So we broke it down. We chunked it up. Something my project manager would have been proud of.
First of all, our children see you day in and day out, and like little sponges absorb everything you do, say, and even, feel. I’ve seen this come out in the way that my son speaks to my daughter, in frustration, and in compassion. As Ghandi said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
When I was a kid, manners were non-negotiable. As such, my husband and I prompt the same manners in our children anytime they ‘forget.’ We also make sure to say our please and thank you’s too, whether it’s to the cashier at the store, the person holding the door for us, or the man in the parking lot who collected our cart. Everyone should be acknowledged and appreciated.
Encourage Empathy and Compassion
When my older child asks a question relating to why someone may look or act differently than us, I mirror questions back to him, like: “How would you feel?” or, “How would you want to be treated?” It’s caused him to befriend the new kid in class, or the kid playing alone at the playground. And he’s always the protector of his little sister. He has already got the kindest heart I know.
Consistency is Key.
I’m sorry. Actually, I’m not. You can’t demand manners, empathy, and compassion from your tiny humans, and not exemplify the same traits yourself. It takes patience. It takes discipline. It takes breathing deep when tensions are running high. But most importantly, these life lessons, will weave through your young one’s life and pay dividends forever. When he stands up to give someone else his seat, when he helps an elderly person load groceries, when he greets apprehension, fear, or anger, in another person with measured empathy and can diffuse a tricky situation.
Have an Open Dialogue
Knowing they can come to you anytime with questions about anything is a powerful medium. Being able to talk about these behaviors, and others is important. We even make sure that the television shows and movies our kids watch encourage teamwork, manners, compassion, empathy, honesty, loyalty, and the list goes on. I’m pretty persnickety about what they watch, so our list is short and we watch with them. But we talk about the behavior of the characters…for instance my 3 year old will say, “I don’t like the wicked king” to which I usually reply, “Well the wicked king might not have been very nice, but it doesn’t mean that he’s a bad person, he just felt that no one was listening to him, he got frustrated, and did something mean.” More complicated sociological conversations will occur later, and I’m content with the explanation to my 3 year old.
As a result, the little humans we’re raising right now will one day run this world. Right now, there is so much turmoil, frustration, anger, and fear in this world. As moms we have the incredible power to RAISE the change we wish to see in this word, and instill in our children the compassion with which we all deserve to be treated; regardless of race, creed, orientation, political standing, or otherwise. We are all connected as human beings. We all deserve dignity, compassion, empathy, and patience.