Parenting for Character 1 by Charles Debelak

Parenting for Character 1

Birchwood School of Hawken preschool students


In this series of blogs entitled Parenting for Character, I hope to inspire you while also offering practical guidance on how to nurture good character in your children. It is my opinion, and I think I have a great deal of history and research in my corner, that character is the greatest gift we can give our children. The endowment of good character leads to a child’s personal fulfillment and to his or her productive place among family, friends and society. While we cannot predict their future, we can equip our children to face and cope with the challenges life places in front of them.

In nurturing good character in our children, we are helping them become beautiful people, those who are noble in conduct, productive in work, compassionate toward others and responsible toward all the affairs of life. A person of good character is what I like to call a “great” person. Such “greatness” in character reaches far beyond wealth, position, achievement or any kind of material success. Granted good character may include these benefits, but it is so much more. Good character embraces the virtues that make life worth living.

I understand that there are many definitions of character and character education, however, my preference for a comprehensive vision comes from the Aristotelian moral virtues. They embrace almost every aspect of what we call “good” and what we most admire in others. The seven moral virtues encapsulate the wide spectrum of good character descriptions and provide a framework from which we can discuss and develop good character in ourselves and in our children. They include wisdom, courage, self-control, justice, gratitude, compassion and humility.

The moral virtues define the energy and power to 1) become what we can become as a unique human being possessing unique potentials, 2) achieve what we can achieve by the talent and abilities with which we have been endowed, and 3) contribute to our social circles – family, friends, colleagues or society, according to our capacities.

While we are all born into different circumstances with different genetic endowments, the pathway toward building of character is the same for everyone and everyone can build up and improve their character. With children the prospects are especially hopeful because to a certain extent we are working with a blank slate. Research and cultural histories tell us that 80 percent of our adult character is shaped by the time we are 15 years old. That is because during these years we are not having to undo bad habits before beginning new ones. If we take the time to arrange the environment and training we offer our children, we will give our children a head start toward good character that will influence their whole life. In the educational world this is called the “cumulative advantage.” It is an advantage that all parents want to give their children.

As I continue these essays, keep in mind this simple equation for building good character:

  1. Sow good ideas, sow good thoughts
  2. Inspire, nurture and encourage good actions
  3. Create environments that habituate good actions
  4. Invest and dedicate yourself to the foregoing process

Good character will result, and good character will impact your child’s destiny.

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