What Good Parents Don’t Know
About Raising Good Kids

By Anne Leedom

Heart To Heart Parenting:
Raising Your Child's Soul

Raising kids with caring hearts who will lead successful and happy lives. That is what we all hope for our kids. Parents have been taught that if we just love our kids, be there for them, and be interested in their lives most kids should turn out pretty terrific. However, the latest research suggests parents are not incorporating the critical ingredients necessary to raise kids who are clear about right and wrong. Loving parents are certainly essential to instilling qualities that help kids succeed. Research from expert Dr. Michele Borba, author of Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing, Jossey Bass, A Wiley Company 2001, clearly states there are crucial steps we need to take in order to raise kids who will thrive in today’s difficult world.

The first and most critical virtue we need to nurture in kids is empathy. The ability to identify with and feel for other people’s concerns is the cornerstone for determining right and wrong, preventing violence, and creating caring and loving behavior. Every day is an opportunity to teach your child the value of another person’s feelings. When your children fight, when they see someone struggling in the world, when mom and dad are tired…there are countless opportunities to help your child see the world with compassion instead of how it affects them. They need to be taught during these moments how they can affect the situation with caring and concern and not just focus on what this means to them. Without this all-important virtue, all the love in the world will not prevent your child from swaying from peer pressure and the negative influences so prevalent today.

Conscience seems like an obvious character trait all parents expect their kids to possess. However, the alarming rise in the rates of youth violence, peer cruelty, stealing, cheating, promiscuity and substance abuse suggest there is a frightening problem. The acts themselves are scary enough. But the truly horrifying part is that most kids do not feel badly that they have behaved in these ways. There is increasing evidence that kids today have no guidelines strong enough to develop the internal compass needed to guide their behavior. Most parents certainly try to teach their kids right from wrong. But the methods are not strong enough to overcome peer pressure and the overwhelming negative influences our kids are subjected to everyday. What worked before clearly will not work in today’s world. There are clear steps that can be taken to nurture the development of conscience, and with a little effort on a consistent basis, your child can be armed with an fail proof internal protection system, rather than an external one.

The third critical trait research tells us kids need is self-control. Dr. Borba defines this as regulating your thoughts and actions so that you may stop any pressures from within or without and act the way you know is right. Having a conscience and the capacity for empathy will do little good if a child does not have the ability to guard their feelings and choose when to act and how to act. Even the greatest saints were faced with situations where they no doubt could have acted aggressively. It is the ability to choose one’s behaviors that separate the saints from the rest of mankind. Once again, the good news is that with consistent effort this trait can be taught, giving kids the internal resistance to not act on every thought or emotion they have. Children need to see this behavior modeled in their daily lives. Modeling self-control is the most critical influence to nurture this trait. Helping your child learn to deal with strong emotions is also a key ingredient to successfully integrating self-control in their personality.

Beyond the first three virtues of empathy, conscience and self-control are other crucial virtues kids need to develop to successfully navigate the waters of negativity, social influences and dangerous options that lie in their path. Discipline, generosity, courage, cooperation, fairness, peacefulness and perseverance can and should all be regularly nurtured in kids. It is important to understand the difference between nurturing character traits daily by living with loving parents and making a specific effort to instill these traits daily through consistent and ongoing behaviors meant to build those virtues. Following the rules and living a life directed by moral behavior is simply not possible today without the guidance of parents, teachers and caregivers who can teach kids the virtues that will lead them in a positive direction. Educating ourselves is the first step to making sure our kids get the information they need to make the right choices and have the lives they deserve.

For more information on character education for kids visit www.parentingbookmark.com copyright 2001.

For more information on Dr. Borba, her books and her work on character education, or to contact her for a speaking engagement visit www.moralintelligence.com

For permission to reprint, please contact editor@parentingbookmark.com. ©2001

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