As we consider the new parenting paradigm this month, I want to push you all to reconsider your notion of character and what it means for your child. In my mind, the traditional notion of “good character,” while definitely a key to building a kinder society and a kinder world, is very much tied to the old paradigm of parenting. Traits like respect, responsibility, fairness, and citizenship, are all key assets in the adult world, but the way they are taught matters.
We are more attuned to the capability of children now than we ever have been. We are beginning to recognize their capacity for empathy and their astonishing connection to emotions and intuition. If we want to raise a generation that knows how to care for themselves, their community, and the world, we need to incorporate empathy, emotional intelligence, environmental responsibility, capacity for wonder, and intuition into our definition good character. A child who understands empathy will grow into an adult with a strong sense of social justice and responsibility. A child who understands their own emotions and has been allowed to listen to their intuition will grow into an adult who can set boundaries and look out for their own needs within a relationship. They will be less likely to succumb to peer pressure and will be well equipped to make responsible decisions. A child who is taught to care for their environment will grow into an adult who considers how their actions impact the world around them.
We don’t need to toss old ideas about character out the window; it is vital to our communities that our children are respectful, responsible, trustworthy, caring individuals. When we focus on these traits in isolation, though, and utilize punishments and rewards to teach our children to make the “right” choices, we miss out on so many opportunities to connect with them, to help them understand their emotions, to help them uncover better ways to meet their needs, and to teach them how to speak up and set boundaries in a socially acceptable way. If we prioritize these next generation character traits and move away from the old paradigm model of punishments and rewards in favor of connection and problem solving, our children will naturally develop into the caring and responsible citizens of this world that we hope for them to be and the need to provide “character education” will melt away.
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