Parenting for Character: The Need for Teaching
The cycle of building character is simple. It begins when parents sow virtuous thoughts and words into a child’s heart. Given time, this sowing results in good behaviors, which, if practiced, accumulate to good character. By nature, children aspire to be good and virtuous. When they hear or read words of virtue or goodness, they respond spontaneously and automatically. The goodness in words reverberates in their hearts and inspires them to action. Virtuous words, spoken or written, urge virtuous behavior.
There is no question that children want to be good, and if reminded and inspired they will do their best to practice goodness. Yet be warned of the obvious. By nature, children also have impulses toward bad behavior! Not some children, but all children. Any clearheaded adult who works with boys and girls, knows by experience that this is true. Even though parents may inspire their children toward virtue, and even though youngsters incited to be good, it is an ineluctable result that good behaviors are often short lived. Bad behaviors slowly return.
These are the realities behind the task of raising children of good character. They help us frame the right question, “How do we help our children habituate good virtue while mitigating the compulsions toward bad behavior?” There are two parts to this task, and they compose the guiding principles for effective education that leads to good character. The first is teaching and the second is training.
Since children have propensities for good behavior and bad, they need to be fed inspiration that stimulates and awakens their own virtue. They will prosper under a steady dose of enlightening and encouraging stories or fables or maxims and quotations. As they learn about exemplars of virtue from biographies of great men and women, they will become embolden to mimic the same behaviors and model good virtue. If someone will point out to them virtuous behaviors of ordinary people in the everyday affairs of life, they will find direction for their own lives.
Parents should take every opportunity to teach virtue, because teaching virtue as it is described here, is like providing a “meal” of virtue. The lessons contain emotional vitamins and minerals that empower virtuous behavior. Through words and models of virtue, the willpower of action in a child’s heart is reenergized to do what is good. Granted, their resultant good behavior might be short lived, but their inclination to do good, as a matter of habit, grows stronger.
Also, through these virtuous “meals,” the reasoning within a child’s heart and mind is being constructed. They are learning what good behavior is and why it is good. The beauty embodied in these virtue meals, creates a taste in their mouth for doing good. Spontaneously they wish to emulate the same beautiful behaviors they see in others.
It is hard to overstate the need for such pervasive, consistent and persistent teaching. Without positive feeding, children will be influenced by the less virtuous people and environmental circumstances that model vice. They will consume the aspirations, goals and forms of pleasure, that create and shape poor character. Children will become what they “eat.”