Building character and teaching our children how to be principled is just as important as caring for their physical and intellectual needs. Each of our children comes with different innate strengths and challenges, so there’s no one-size-fits all program for teaching your child values; what virtues your child needs to work on and when will depend on age, personality and circumstances.
Teaching a child to be virtues takes patience, effort and teamwork. It’s not something your child can figure out on their own, and it’s not something you can “make” happen. It’s a combination of your guidance and perseverance with your child’s willingness and effort. Here are a few ideas that can help!
1. Be a role model. Be an example of the virtue you are asking your children to learn. It will be easier for them to develop the virtue if they see you living it on a daily basis and can follow your example.
2. Surround your child with examples of the virtue. Your own example is very necessary, but not enough on its own. Your child probably interacts with many other individuals on a regular basis – family friends, relatives, teachers, etc. Make sure the people that regularly associate with your child emulate the virtues and values you want your child to develop.
3. Analyze movies that reflect virtues and values. If there’s a particular virtue you want your child to develop, find a movie that demonstrates that virtue for your next family movie night. After watching the movie, talk about it with your child, and ask them what specific examples they noticed about the virtue in question in the movie.
4. Find literature for your child about the virtue. Depending on your child’s age and personality, this could actually be giving them a book that defines different virtues and gives suggestions for developing them, a book dedicated entirely to a particular virtue, or pictures, storybooks and novels that have one or more main characters practicing that value.
5. Have your child complete a project that utilizes the virtue. The best way to learn is by doing! Projects could include fundraising, collecting or making things for a charity (generosity), helping a sibling or friend (kindness), caring for something around the house regularly (responsibility), etc. Projects could also include your child developing a lesson about the virtue (story, puppet show, maybe craft or activity, etc.) to give to younger siblings or friends. Here is a printable template your child can use for planning their virtue project.
6. Teach your child good habits associated with the virtue. Virtue is abstract; habits are concrete. A child who is too young to learn the meaning of a virtue, such as kindness, can learn good habits associated with kindness, like being polite and sharing. Good habits help your child develop virtues from a young age, even before they logically understand the meaning and value of the virtue they’re developing.
7. Have a faith centered home. God is the source of all perfection; if your family is centered on God, it will be much easier for your kids to develop specific virtues and values.
8. Discuss virtues and the logic behind them (once your child has reached the age of reason and is able to understand the meaning). While virtues are often associated with religion, they are not “merely” religious. They are part of our common human experience; even people with no religion can live virtuous lives. Why? Because virtues make sense. There is a strong logic, and sometimes even elements of nature, behind most, if not all virtues. Helping your child understand this logic empowers them to be internally motivated toward developing virtue.