By Brandy Terrell, LCSW – June 18, 2019

It is the strength and originality in a person’s nature that defines their character, according to Google Dictionary. Character is also made up of the mental or moral qualities that are distinctive to each of us.

I often wonder how my role as a mother contributes to the character development of my children.  Most days I feel like I’m still trying to build my own character. There may be no real end to such an endeavor.

To me, character building is about understanding the “why” in every teachable moment and creating the ability to think critically about the “why” in every situation. It’s more than the “Do as I say, not as I do” adage.

Maybe it’s about turning the “why” around and looking inward in hopes of figuring out what type of person we all want to be; maybe it’s leading by example. It’s most likely leading without the realization that you are the example and your behaviors are being absorbed by others.

As parents, we get wrapped up in the everyday struggle to meet the material demands of raising children. We worry about providing a safe home, the latest technology or gaming system, joining sports teams, the drama club or any other social activity.

Sometimes we get lost in the rush of it all. We should strive to give our children as many opportunities as possible, within reason of course. Sometimes we equate “things,” activities and the latest trends as our way of developing character.

Maybe we expect our children to “act right” simply because they had a stable outward foundation and have “no real problems to worry about.”  When our children fall short in behavior, pick on another child, disrespect an adult or act entitled, we are left wondering what went wrong. Why did my child not “know better?”  

While we continue to provide on a material level, we also need to provide on an emotional level with the same or more gusto. We need to teach our children that all the material things we have are sort of like “extras” and what makes the character of a person is how we treat other people, not all the material things that we have.

We must teach a child that our outward behavior is a representation of the type of person that we really are deep inside. Each of us needs to decide what type of person we want to become. Character building starts with parent/child emotional interactions and conversations from a very young age. Perhaps we should also talk about privilege/entitlement each time we bestow some form of material object or privilege on our children.

So, what have I learned 25 years and three children later? Often I can see my explanations of the “why” and the character talks come to life in my children.

Each moment of kindness, humility and respect they display to others is a small emotional win for me. Each time another adult tells me how thoughtful and well-mannered my children are I’m filled with pride. (I’m usually also thinking that at least they have enough sense to act right in public!)  So my advice to parents or others trying to build character in a child is, “Hang in there and don’t give up!” Most importantly, take time to focus on the “why” as much as possible, because kids are watching, listening and absorbing.