Many parents talk to me about their kids’ character traits and behavior. “He is a stubborn kid. He was always stubborn” or “She is a nag. She nagged from the first day she came home”. I wonder how much of what these parents are describing is real character (permanent and unchangeable) and how much of it we can change.
Watch your thought, for they become word
Watch your words, for they become action
Watch your actions, for they become habit
Watch your habits, for they become character
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
All kids are born with their unique character, a personality. This becomes really obvious when you have your second child. You realize that some of how they behave is just something they are born with. You notice that they have a certain character from the very first day you spend with them.
Unfortunately, not all character traits are wonderful and great. How they develop later on in life depends mainly on how we view these traits and how we react to them. For example, many parents treat their kids’ behavior as a result of a character trait. Since character is solid and fixed, they thing this behavior cannot be changed.
This goes back to the old argument between nature and nurture that I do not believe we will ever be able to solve. Is behavior a result of genetics and character, or is it something we develop through nurturing parenting? I tend to think it must be a mix of the two. I believe that ultimate dependency on nature can make us impotent parents and a small belief in nurture can empower us to aim high.
Do you remember the serenity prayer?
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference
While I wouldn’t tattoo it to my back like the photo above, it is something important to keep in mind. I think this is the philosophy we need to adopt. We can’t change our kids height or the color of their eyes, but we can change how they manage the world around them.
There are great examples for both sides of the argument. Regardless of what side we pick, we will subconsciously find evidence for it in the world around us (with a little help from our Reticular Activating System (RAS)). We pick one side that seems best to us at the moment and find evidence to support our belief.
I realized that issue in picking only one side I tried to define myself as stubborn. I was a very stubborn girl. I had an amazing reputation for being very stubborn and it was obviously a bad thing. At the age of 16, I realized that if looked at stubbornness from a different angle, it looked suspiciously like persistence. Both are defined by doing something over and over again, against all odds, and in spite of others saying you need to stop or do something different. If people succeed we say they were persistent, if they fail, we say they were stubborn. Same behavior, different outcome, different attitude towards the trait. I think many of the character traits are similar. They have a good side and a not so good side, depending on the outcome. We can help kids recognize the strengths of every trait and use them to their advantage.
Think, for example, about the character traits, indecisive and careful. The behavior is much the same. If a person is thinking a lot before doing something, we say he/she was indecisive. However, if thinking a lot before doing something yielded a good result, we would say he/she was careful and not impulsive. We judge behavior based on the outcome.
Let’s give nurture the stage
As much as it is hard to believe, we can raise kids with certain character traits. If we understand that traits are a result of thoughts, beliefs and ideas, we can see just how powerful we are in helping our kids build strong, happy, positive, determined and friendly character trait.
For a trait to be solid and part of our kids’ lives, it needs to supported by beliefs, thoughts and ideas that constitutes the trait. For example: If I think that kindness is a good trait and every time I help someone else or do something nice, I tell myself “that was a very kind thing to do, I am kind”, I strengthen that belief. Every time I hear someone saying to me “Oh, Ronit, that was so kind of you”, that strengthens the belief. When have heard enough times that “I am kind”, I develop a conviction that kindness is part of me, it is part of who I am and it is not just a behavior, it is a trait.
We, as parents, can actively instill traits in our kids regardless of their natural makeup. In special education, we know that every child can “learn” to concentrate for 10-15 minutes (which is all we need to learn everything in school). Even if the child could only concentrate for 20 seconds to start off with, after 3 weeks of work, this child will leave with the conviction that he/she is “very focused”. Why? Because I know the biology and chemistry of how to instill thoughts and beliefs until they become convictions. I will share them with you in the next few chapters of this series.
Creating convictions: planting seeds and watering
Instilling traits in children can be done in four stages:
- Find the traits you want to instill
- Find the beliefs that are associated with this trait
- Find an opportunity to offer your child the beliefs (as small and as often as possible)
From that moment on, look for situations when the child is behaving the way you want them to. Offer the belief. The first time you “offer” the belief, (for example, the belief that the child is kind), “That was very kind of you” is planting the seed stage. Every time you reiterate the belief, that is watering. When we water a good belief, we support the trait until the child develops a conviction. Conviction is when the plant has strong roots. We as parents must make sure we never, ever stop watering good seeds (beliefs), at least until the child has a conviction about the trait.
The first thing you need to do is decide which character traits you want your kids to have. Here is a list of character traits that I found to be a good list to draw from. I have collected them from parents in my workshops and arranged them in alphabetical order for your convenience. An exercise with this list will be given at the last post. There are plenty more traits than are written here. You can add many other traits if you wish.
Good character traits
- A: Active, Adaptable, Adventurous, Agreeable, Appreciative, Articulate, Athletic, Ambitious, Artistic,
- B: Balanced, Brilliant, Brave
- C: Calm, Capable, Caring, Charismatic, Charming, Cheerful, Careful, Clean, Clever, Colorful, Compassionate, Confident, Conscientious, Considerate, Consistent, Contemplative, Cooperative, Courageous, Courteous, Creative, Curious, Crafty
- D: Daring, Decisive, Dedicated, Deep, Discreet, Dramatic, Dynamic,
- E: Efficient, Elegant, Empathetic, Energetic, Enthusiastic, Aesthetic, Exciting, Extraordinary, Encouraging, Easy Going
- F: Fair, Faithful, Flexible, Focused, Forgiving, Freethinking, Friendly, Fun-loving
- G: Generous, Gentle, Genuine, Good-natured, Gracious
- H: Hardworking, Healthy, Helpful, Honest, Humble, Humorous, Happy, Hopeful
- I: Idealistic, Imaginative, Impressive, Independent, Individualistic, Innovative, Insightful, Intelligent, Intuitive, Imaginative
- K: Kind, Knowledgeable
- L: Logical, Lovable, Loyal, Loving
- M: Mature, Methodical, Modest
- N: Neat
- O: Observant, Open, Optimistic, Organized, Original
- P: Passionate, Patient, Peaceful, Perceptive, Persuasive, Playful, Popular, Practical, Precise, Principled, Protective, Punctual, Pleasant, Persistent, Polite, Positive
- R: Rational, Realistic, Reflective, Relaxed, Reliable, Resourceful, Respectful, Responsible, Romantic
- S: Safe, Satisfied, Secure, Selfless, Self-sufficient, Sensitive, Sentimental, Serious, Sharing, Simple, Smart, Sociable, Sophisticated, Spontaneous, Sporting, Stable, Strong, Subtle, Sweet, Sympathetic, Systematic
- T: Tactful, Tasteful, Thorough, Tidy, Tolerant, Trusting, Talented, Truthful, Trustworthy,
- U: Understanding
- W: Wise, Warm-hearted
How to redesign your conviction garden
Here are some instructions to make good use of this list.
- Print the list and circle the traits you think your kids have already. Make sure to use different colored pens for different kids.
- Out of the whole list, circle the 20 most important traits you want to give your kids. It is not easy to pick only 20. All parents want their kids to have it all but we cannot focus on all of them at the same time. So stick to 20!
- Circle the 10 most important traits. It is good to have a full list but we’ll have to narrow them down to practice planting seeds, watering and making sure they will have strong roots.
- Circle the 5 most important traits. Having a finer and finer list will help you work on your priorities. Once you evaluate and think your child has developed your top 5 traits, move on to the first 10 and so on. Over a kids’ life, you can instill hundreds of beliefs, if you only know how to. As parents, we do this all the time, so we may as well choose the ones we want to instill, right?
- Work on this list as a couple. It is important to collaborate as parents or as guardians. You can come up with a list together. When you agree on a trait, put it on the list. If you don’t agree on some of them, rate them until you come up with a list you both agree on.
Join me next time for a list of beliefs that water and help good character trait seeds grow.
Until next time, be a happy parent!
This post is part of the series Helping Kids Build Character:
- Helping Kids Build Healthy and Powerful Character Traits
- Healthy and Powerful Character Traits for Children: A to G
- Developing Good Character Traits for Children: H to Z
- Positive Character Traits for Children: Watering with Weed Killer
- How to Destroy Good Character Traits for Children: A to F
- How to Destroy Good Character Traits for Children: G-Z
- Kids’ Personality Traits: How to Change Them with Awareness
- Character Traits: Swapping the Bad for the Good