Teaching Character


We all desire our children to be well mannered citizens with highly esteemed character traits, but where do children learn such things?  How do we parents teach children how to behave nicely, use their manners and think of others before themselves?

Books have assisted me in teaching nearly all things to my children. We use books to teach our children their alphabet, numbers, colors, potty training and more, so it’s a great idea to find children’s books that can assist you with general or specific positive character traits. One of our favorite books is Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud and David Messing. After reading this book a few times and then returning to it periodically, I simply refer to the idea of filling others’ buckets, which can be a great reminder for my children to correct their behavior throughout the day.

Contained children also make a captive audience to learn different lessons. When they are younger, talk to them when you are out for a walk and they are sitting in the stroller, and at all ages, when they are in the car. “[In] everyday moments I try to be conscious of instilling good character in my children,” says Meredith Barreth, Overland Park mother of three. “For example, I prep the kids before we go somewhere to eat that we will not be complaining but, rather, grateful for friendship and the food they provide. When I see my kids having trouble with something, I pull them aside and say to them, ‘Let's try that again,’ or ‘Being honest takes courage, and I know that you can choose to be brave.’”

Author and speaker Jill Savage writes on Facebook.com/jillsavage.author, “They say with kids more is caught than taught. What they see us do is far more important than what we tell them to do. They follow our example and grow up to be more like us than we’d sometimes like them to be. They ‘catch’ our good and our bad.” Modeling is always the best way for children to learn and usually the hardest for parents to be consistent with, because we are human too!  Modeling positive character traits is a powerful way to teach your children how to be a good member of your community and world around you. “I think character development is so strongly built on modeling. When I get angry and yell, I really try to apologize and let them know that I'm still working on being the best me I can be, but sometimes I mess up,” says Barreth.                      

Tangible ways we have found in our family to model kindness is to pray for the safety of construction workers as we drive past, as well as whenever we hear emergency sirens. Having visual and audio triggers is helpful to children and adults alike to stop and think about others. Our family has gone on “litter walks,” where we simply walk around our neighborhood with a garbage bag to collect any litter we may find along the way. Gloves are a good idea to keep your family safe and to remind your children they shouldn’t pick up litter without asking an adult first. We haven’t done this in a while, but my 7-year-old was just telling me how she and her friend did this at recess one day at school last year. She learned that lesson just from doing a good deed with our family. Volunteering in any capacity is a wonderful tool to teach your children about citizenship, caring, respect, fairness, trustworthiness and responsibility—all six Character Counts pillars found on CharacterCounts.com.                                  

A great way to serve the community as a family, even with little ones, is to sign up to be a bell ringer for the Salvation Army during their annual Christmas Red Kettle Campaign. Many stores allow you to ring inside, and children enjoy ringing the bell and greeting customers. Another tangible way to encourage your children to think of others is to create a prayer jar filled with Popsicle sticks with different people’s names and topics on them. We use this (ideally) each evening at the dinner table to choose what to pray for before we eat dinner. With multiple children, rules are helpful to teach fairness: Each chooses one stick per day or they alternate days to choose the stick from the jar.

Being rewarded for a job well done is appreciated by anyone, and children are no exception. Verbally praising your child for sharing, for holding the door open, for waiting his turn or saying please on his own is a great way to solidify your teaching and expectations of his behavior. If that’s not entirely working on its own, a reward chart or other type of system can help. We have been utilizing a Kindness Jar for a couple of years now. We simply have a glass vase filled with three different colored pom-poms and three corresponding Mason jars for each of our children. When I witness them choosing to be kind, they get a pom-pom put in their jar. When they reach 10 pom-poms, they get to go out for ice cream on their own with a parent. 

Parents at Heritage Elementary School in Olathe have mentioned their students’ receiving “Caughtchas” as a reward system at the school. “The Caughtchas are a great reward system because they can save them up and turn them in for things like extra recess and reading a book to another class,” Heather Weber, Olathe mother of three, says. “I believe it is all behavior based, where they get ‘caught’ being kind, helping a friend, being respectful, etc.”

As Barreth mentions above, taking a moment to pull aside your child when she is struggling is beneficial. Sure, it takes time to address behavioral issues, but explaining things to your child in the moment can help with correction and shows your child that her appropriate behavior is important to you. Simply having a child sit out for a while, lose a privilege or apologize are all ways to reinforce good character traits in the next generation we’re responsible for raising.


Suggested Topical Books

  • Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud and David Messing
  • Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
  • A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
  • The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch
  • Stellaluna by Janelle Cannon


Stephanie Loux is the mother of Layla, 7, Mason, 5, and Slade, 2, and writes from her home. You can check out more of her writing at LettersFromTheLouxs.blogspot.com.

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