When I was a teenager, my father asked me why I didn’t do some extra credit assignment at school. I explained that I didn’t need the extra credit because I had a solid B in that class and asked, “Why should I spend the time trying to get an A when I don’t have to even work to get a B?”
My father looked exasperated and said, “Because it builds character.”
Of course, I didn’t really know what he meant at the time but because I didn’t want to disappoint him, I did the extra credit assignment and earned the A.
I am not sure why the memory and subsequent lesson stuck. However, as I was raising my daughters I kept going back to it. What is character and how do you reinforce it in your children?
I decided character could be summed up in three words “do it anyway.” It is easy to be generous when you are wealthy. It is easy to work hard when you enjoy the activity. It is easy to delay gratification when you know you can always get more later. It is easy to be kind when you are in a good mood. It is easy to stand on your principles when everyone in the room is of the same opinion.
The hardest concept to teach our children is the true measure of a man or woman is how they respond when things are hard. Are you willing to say something when you see someone being bullied? Are you willing to
share your lunch with a friend who has none? Are you willing to provide
assistance without being asked? Are you willing to delay short-term
gratification for long-term gain?
So how do you “build character” in your children? Think of character as a muscle. Like any muscle, it becomes strong and stays strong by habitual and regular use. Using daily activities and careful coaching, you can instill the following four habits of “character” in your children.
Building the capacity for hard work requires consistent practice. If you do a task repeatedly, it becomes a habit. Making your bed every morning, washing the dishes every night, and studying each evening are all examples of the capacity for hard work. Sticking with a task until it is complete is an example of hard work. We may not enjoy these tasks, but we do them anyway.
Working hard at something should be like breathing – you don’t think about it, you just do it! It is important that we provide opportunities for our children to develop the capacity for hard work. Assigning your children daily chores will not only prepare them for running their own household someday, it will instill in the capacity to work hard in all areas of life.
New studies demonstrate that self-control is more important to success than self-esteem. It starts early. Before they even learn to speak, babies will smack you in the face for fun, and eventually in anger. When they learn to talk they seem to pick up on the words that can be most hurtful.
The cute preschooler, who turns away from you and yells no, will grow into the teeth-sucking, eye-rolling, sarcastic teenager you want to strangle. We tend to think our children will grow out of bad behavior, or that it is “just a phase.” It is not. A disruptive, disrespectful manner is something they won’t grow out of by themselves. Allowing this early conduct to continue into adolescence without early course correction will almost always ensure disrespectful teens.
While we want our children to be able to express their anger and disappointments, expression without analysis is not helpful. I used to direct my child to go their room while they were loudly expressing their disappointment and then come out when they were ready to use their words.
Failure teaches so much, and yet we spend large amounts of time shaming ourselves for failing at something, or avoiding new opportunities because we worry we may fail. It is important to help our children understand that falling down is only bad when we fail to get up and try again.
Unfortunately, we don’t know how to recover from failure and work overtime to help our own children have successful experiences. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Identifying what worked, what didn’t work and how to move forward helps your child to live with confidence. Failure provides many opportunities for self-examination. With appropriate coaching from you, your child can develop the kind of confidence required to take calculated risks, know when to ask for help and most importantly get up to try again.
Reciprocity is the simple of act of taking care of those who take care of you. I agree that as the adult you shouldn’t rely on your child for your own need fulfillment. However, it is important for your child to understand you have feelings too. Moms were not put on this earth simply to cater to their children’s desires and demands. Moms are a human being fully deserving of same respect and compassion from your children would give to anyone else. The sense of caring for others is a learned habit which is reinforced by you insisting they treat you with care. Compassion and empathy in the world begins at home, and home is Mom.
Your children should say “please”, “thank you” and “excuse me” to you. They should remember your birthday and Mother’s Day. They should learn to practice random acts of kindness toward you simply to see your smile.
If other adults in their lives support their activities and buy them gifts, your children should be encouraged to spend time, even if they are boring or smell funny. Kindness is a habit. To nurture considerate world citizens we have to teach and expect reciprocity and consideration from our children.
When your kids complain or whine “I don’t feel like it.” Tell them to do it anyway — it builds character.
Excerpted from The Momarchy: A Single Mom’s Guide to Guilt-Free Parenting!” by Angela Toussaint