Our children live in a world today that is busy and complicated. With the availability of sports and activities for younger kids, as well as the Internet and other media, our children are exposed to much more at an earlier age –some good and some perhaps not so good – than was the case in the past.
Raising children in this environment can be very challenging. As parents, we want to equip our kids to successfully navigate the world they live in, and grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults. Not always an easy task. However, many believe (and research suggests) that character education can play an important role in helping children learn to make good choices concerning their behavior, thus improving their chances for positive outcomes later in life.
Research has long shown that parents who intentionally discuss concepts of character with their children have a better chance of raising kids with fewer issues later in life. (Kindlon, 2003) In fact, ”talk has been identified as a crucial link between parents and children: It is how parents impart their cultures to their children and enable them to become the kind of men and women they want them to be."(Wong Fillmore, 1991).
For most, character education is considered a good thing in theory, but difficult in practice. It’s hard to know where to start or what to do. Even those who have strong convictions – ideals that were instilled in them by their parents and shape who they are – can sometimes struggle with how to establish these same beliefs in their own children.
Couple that with today’s busy lifestyles, and there’s just not time to figure it all out. By necessity, we end up spending more time worrying about how we’re going to get our kids from activity to activity rather than figuring out how to pass on qualities we consider important to our children.
Because of this, many parents today admit they could use some help when it comes to character education – help that makes it easier to start the conversation, keeps it top of mind and lays a foundation for it to become a part of everyday life.
When it comes to character education, many factors suggest 4-6 year old children may be at the perfect age for parents to begin the conversation.
Developmentally, children this age start to broaden their understanding of the world to include abstract ideas, and so can begin to incorporate concepts like telling the truth or being kind into their repertoire.
In addition, many are entering a preschool environment, and face a whole new set of social and emotional challenges as they learn how to interact and work in a school setting. Children of this age are routinely taught (and more readily accept) rules to follow, and they look to parents and other adults for guidance. When questions or issues arise, it is the parents, not peers, who have the biggest impact and are the biggest influence in shaping children’s behavior. It seems to follow, then, that concepts of character introduced and reinforced at this early age can become just another part of the initial framework children are building to help them understand the world and navigate their way through it.
Building character in children is a process that spans over many years. Finding fun, simple ways to start and continue conversations on qualities of character at an early age can help parents share their own beliefs about character, and create a foundation for positive behavior and good decision-making that can last a child’s entire life.