Scheduling Time To Nurture Character in Kids
By Anne Leedom
The list is overwhelming: soccer, basketball, baseball, swimming, gymnastics, dance, art, music, horseback riding, and tutors. Parents are enrolling their kids in activities geared to help nurture self-esteem, be strong and competent, and have a competitive edge. Everyone agrees sports and enrichment activities are a great way to enhance your child’s social and physical abilities. Most kids today rely heavily on cell phones, pages and scheduling devices to keep up with the pace. However, there are increasingly alarming statistics in this active world in which kids live.
In the United States, 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by peers. The National School Safety Center calls bullying "the most enduring and underrated problem in American schools." According to the Josephson Institute of Ethics 24% of high school students say they took a weapon to school at least once in the past year. 73% of 10-to 18-year-olds hit someone during the year because they were angry.
One out of five fifth-graders has been drunk and two-thirds of eighth graders have used alcohol, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Clearly, something is not working. However, there are small changes parents and teachers can schedule into their daily activities that will build the character and virtues kids need to survive in today’s increasingly difficult world.
The evidence suggests we need to take time out of our schedules to teach critical virtues to our kids. Dr. Michele Borba, author of Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing, says the best way to help kids overcome negative pressures and act right even in these morally troubling times is to boost their Moral IQ. According to Dr. Borba, moral intelligence is the capacity to understand right from wrong and behave morally.
Parents have a choice to make when deciding which virtues to teach to their kids. Dr. Borba says there are critical virtues a child must possess to become a caring and compassionate person. Empathy, conscience, and self-control are the three virtues that form “The Moral Core.” “When kids are lacking an ability to feel for others, an inner voice to guide them to do the right thing, and the strength to control their destructive impulses, they are left defenseless against the many negative influence kids face constantly.”
Empathy: Empathy provides the critical ingredient needed to resist acting on negative or aggressive impulses. It enhances a child’s ability to react kindly and see the bigger picture when faced with social challenges. Virtues must be taught from birth while kids are amazingly and intuitively responsive to being “good”. Parents can offer direction to small children during playgroups and in their own families. When sibling rivalry or sharing difficulties rear their head, changing the child’s focus can alter the entire dynamic.
Rather than teaching kids the value of sharing and/or giving in to the other child, use the opportunity to guide children to realize what the other child is feeling. Asking questions like,”How do you think this is making Sam feel?” can be a powerful way to nurture empathy and decrease aggression. When these kinds of attitudes are presented to children at a very young age, it becomes natural for them to behave compassionately.
Strong Conscience: Children are born with a conscience. However, if a child is truly going to be able to withstand the pressures in today’s world, maintaining a strong conscience is essential. Taking time to develop this virtue can be done by listening to your child’s moral reasoning and understanding why they behave the way they do. Good communication is essential to be able to successfully review the behavior. According to Thomas Lickona, author of Raising Good Kids a crucial step is to direct your child to right the wrong they may have done. The ability to make amends is a necessary step to building a strong conscience.
Self-control: This virtue helps kids put on the brakes when they are tempted to strike out at something or someone. Taking the time to teach kids actions have consequences can make the difference in a child’s ability to halt aggressive behavior. Dr. Borba suggests taking a few minutes a day to practice 1+3+10. Dr. Borba says as soon as you feel your body sending you a warning sign that says you’re losing control, do three things. First, stop and tell yourself: ‘be calm.” That’s 1. Second, take three deep slow breaths from your tummy. That’s 3. Now count slowly to ten inside your head. That’s 10. Put them all together, it’s 1 + 3 +10, and doing it helps you calm down and get back in control.
Living in a time when there is so much information and direction to raising great kids leaves parents with the obvious dilemma. Prioritizing the events in kids’ lives to ensure they have the best possible coping skills and the greatest chance for success in the ultimate parenting challenge today. However, scheduling time to nurture character in kids will go a long way to making sure that the love and attention given to them pays off. Research is clear.
The only proven way to virtually guarantee children possess the traits of character and virtues is to schedule time every day to teach the value of the moment. Use the many challenges kids face to guide them in the direction of compassion, generosity, self-control, kindness and other essential virtues that arm kids for life with a caring heart and mind.
Anne Leedom is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of www.parentingbookmark.com. She has been quoted in national print including Parents, Redbook and Nick Jr. Magazines and NPR. She contributes regularly to online publications and lives in Northern California with her two daughters. She is also the Founder of AnneLeedomPR.com, a premier agency promoting authors, coaches, speakers and others who utilize her services to expand their media platform.