10 Key Characteristics You Need to Teach Your Child
Most concerned parents are involved in their children’s education because they want them to be successful adults. They meet with their children’s teachers and ensure that homework is completed on time. In online schools, parents become Learning Coaches for their children. But as important as academic learning is, it is only one part of a child’s total education. Cultivating positive characteristics is arguably just as important.
There are a number of character traits that kids need to learn to be successful in life, and to be well-rounded people. Many of these traits will not only serve children well in their adult years, but will also aid them in achieving academically. The following are ten essential character traits all kids need to learn early in life and continue to develop in their adult years.
Kids’ natural curiosity can seem like an annoyance to busy parents, but it is an important trait that should not be stifled. Many of the world’s leading inventors and entrepreneurs point to their natural curiosity as the roots of their successes. “Curiosity is one of the most permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect,” observed author Samuel Johnson. Curiosity can make learning more interesting and result in more active rather than passive thinking, which is good for the brain. “For too many children, curiosity fades,” explains Dr. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. “Curiosity dimmed is a future denied.” Be sure to encourage your kids’ curiosity, take them to new places and teach them new things. Ask them questions to keep them interested in the world around them.
Social interaction is a basic part of life for both children and adults. So learning appropriate social skills is essential. Children with good social skills tend to do better in school, have a better self-image and are better at resolving conflicts. Some kids are born with the charm and outgoing personality needed to get along with others, but for some, socializing may be more difficult. Just playing with other kids is helpful, but when social skills are a challenge, parents can use activities to build up these skills in children, such as learning to read facial expression or playing charades to pick up on body language.
Life can be hard, even for kids. Everyone needs some level of resilience to get through the tough times. When children learn to be resilient, they are better able to deal with the traumas and difficulties they will surely face. Many parents understandably try to shield their kids from painful situations, but teaching them resilience will serve them better in the long run. If your child is having a problem in school or with friends, try problem-solving together so he learns how to manage the problem, instead of just running away from it. And parents can help kids put their problems in perspective, so they learn most problems are not as big or as insurmountable as they may first seem.
Often, it is not until children do something dishonest that parents have a discussion with them about what it means to have integrity. But ideally kids should learn this characteristic before they are faced with challenging ethical questions. Discuss your family values with your children and try asking what your child would do if faced with ethical dilemmas, such as seeing a friend steal from another student’s desk or cheating to get better grades. Talking through these questions will help prepare a child for real life situations.
Resourcefulness—finding solutions to problems—is a trait that businesses look for in employees and it should be developed in childhood. When kids have all their needs met, as middle class American children usually do, they are not often called upon to be resourceful. Having the Internet and limitless apps at their fingertips is convenient, but not helpful in building resourcefulness in kids. So parents should work to nurture this trait in their children. Try some activities that will help your child to be resourceful and think out-of-the-box. For example, challenge them to create new uses for old objects, such as plastic bottles, an egg carton or rubber bands.
Most think of artistic expression when hearing the word “creativity,” but it encompasses more than that. It involves imagination and creative expression in whatever form that takes. In addition to academic endeavors, children should take time for creative activities, such as music, photography, theater, making creations from clay or other materials, visiting museums and nature preserves, as well as drawing and painting. Fostering creativity in children will benefit them in other ways as well, including building their communications skills, improving their cognitive abilities such as problem-solving, and developing their emotional development. Experts also advise that children are given free time without the screen time every day to develop their own creative thought. “Kids without freedom to play won’t find their creative selves,” says pediatrician Kenneth R. Ginsburg, M.D.
In a study by Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Project, 80 percent of kids surveyed said they valued achievement or happiness over caring for others. And those surveyed were three times more likely to agree with the statement, “My parents are prouder if I get good grades than if I’m a caring community member.” It’s up to parents to encourage kids’ natural sense of empathy for others and to stress the importance of caring for others as much as getting good grades. Raising an empathetic children is not just good for the community; it will also help them to have better emotional intelligence and maybe even be more successful. There are a number of ways to build your children’s empathy, including modeling empathy and expanding your kids’ outer circle to include people different from themselves, and that can even include diverse characters in books and movies.
Somewhere between being overly aggressive and painfully timid lies assertiveness. It involves being bold and confident, and speaking up when necessary but still remaining respectful. Being assertive “fosters insight, wisdom, patience, tolerance, confidence and acceptance,” says Lisa M. Schab, author of Cool, Calm and Confident: A Workbook to Help Kids Learn Assertiveness Skills. “It is the necessary building block to mature and peaceful relationships between all human beings.” Steps to teach assertiveness include explaining the various communication styles and role-playing different scenarios to teach the child how being assertive can be effective.
There is an important balance between having positive self-esteem and remaining humble that all kids and adults need to learn. In today’s parenting culture that emphasizes praise and validation, it can be a challenge to ensure that kids still have humility. Kids who lack humility may grow up to be arrogant adults, and no one wants that. Yet humility can be in harmony with confidence and positive self-esteem because when a child is self-assured and does not feel inferior to others, he won’t feel the need to brag about his talents and achievements. Teaching humility to children begins with modeling it. Parents should admit when they’ve made a mistake or don’t know the answer and be willing to give credit to others. Then they can encourage kids to do the same. Role-playing games and praising humility when kids demonstrate it is also helpful.
Experts say that having positive self-esteem has a strong correlation to behavior and happiness, so teaching a child to have confidence is important. “Because there is such a strong parallel between how your child feels about himself and how he acts,” says William Sears, MD, “it is vital to discipline to raise a confident child.” Experts suggests realistically praising your child—constant and excessive praise is not effective—and rewarding positive behavior rather than focusing on bad behavior. Also allowing children to fail at times and to overcome obstacles on their own will build their confidence for future endeavors. Remember, they won’t always have parents to help them out, and will need to believe they can face challenges on their own.
There is a lot to learn in life that goes far beyond the academics of math, science and literature, and many of these lessons must come first from parents in the home. Be sure your children learn these important life lessons so they’ll be well-rounded, happy and successful adults!
If you’re concerned your kids are not learning important life lessons and you’d like to spend more time with them in a teaching environment, consider online learning. As your child’s Learning Coach via a virtual school, you will have more opportunities to support your child academically in all of his or her education. Visit K12.com for more information.
Elizabeth Street is a writer and managing editor for Learning Liftoff. For the past 20 years, she has written newsletter and website content for nonprofit and corporate organizations on such topics as the plight of children of prisoners worldwide, the lack of prenatal care for mothers in developing countries, and child mentoring programs. She has a particular interest in the importance of providing all children with a quality education regardless of their family’s financial status or background. A native of Virginia, Elizabeth is a graduate of James Madison University and loves animals, with particular fondness for her two cats, Oscar and Emmy.