The increase in violence/shootings/bombings, bullying, threats, and judgment in the U.S. is spiraling out of control. Americans are afraid to send their children to school or attend public events. Kids can’t even play outside these days for fear of being abducted or shot on the street. Something needs to be done and fast. Understanding the influential factors on character is an important step in initiating change.

What is character?

Character is defined as the mental and moral qualities that are distinctive to an individual. We are, in fact, the sum of the character-impacting factors that we have experienced mostly during the developmental years, but character can be influenced throughout one’s life based on the major life challenges and growth opportunities we experience.

The most prominent factors that influence one’s character include:
1. Genetic Pre-Dispositions (Nature) such as temperament, medical ailments, or personality disorders (not very amendable, but certainly manageable with extensive work);
2. Epigenetic Gene Influences: (Nature) gene markers that get turned on/off based on traumatic life experiences that if unresolved, get passed forward three generations, (amendable with self-awareness and lots of psychological recapitulation) and;
3. Environmental Influences (Nurture), (very amendable).
The Environmental Factors that influence character are vast and even the slightest of negative influence can manifest into cognitive distortions that alters one’s self-perception, view of the world, and can ultimately affect moral choices. These factors can include socio-economic status, parenting style, and parental role models, academic influences, peer relationships, neighborhood/communities, spiritual involvement, cultural heritage/rituals/beliefs, and, of course, teacher role models.

What are the potential benefits of Character Education?

Character Education Programs are known to affect the following factors:
1. Promotes empathy, compassion, and affects a person’s intent to help others. Establishes universal ethical values.
2. Increases one’s awareness of how his/her own behaviors affect the behavior of others.
3. Teaches one to make choices that result in future healthier and happier outcomes.
4. Adds to social and emotional development.
5. Increases trust, trustworthiness, and respect.
6. Encourages a sense of purpose and develops personal areas for service or good deeds (service to other people, animals, environment, charities, etc.).
7. Facilitates integrity, wholeness, and accountability. Promotes high personal standards and goal setting.
8. Promotes leadership, responsibility, imagination, creativity, and advocacy.
9. Teaches acceptance of differences and reduces discrimination of others. Encourages non-violent problem-solving, negotiations, and compromise.
10. Influences social affiliations: Positive characteristics are like magnets in attracting others with similar positive characters.
11. Promotes self-love by interpreting mistakes as opportunities for growth. Teaches self-acceptance, self- confidence, and self-efficacy.
12. Establishes boundaries and ground rules for the respectable treatment of others.

Children’s Character Education programs have the potential to be the most viable influencer of change. This is obviously not an overnight solution, and it may or may not help kids or young adults who are already negatively affected by poor character. However, establishing and involving kids in high-quality Character Education Activities is a definite step towards the solution for our pre-school and school-aged population. If the program can engage both the children and the parents, research supports that positive character development will be much more likely.

The best places to initiate these strong Character Education Programs include Schools and school curriculum, Daycares, After School Programs, Sports Clubs, Youth Services (Scouts, Boys’ & Girls’ Club, Family Success Centers, Therapeutic Services, any other organization engaging children of all ages, and of course, at home). The curriculum in schools is so demanding and many schools do already include some form of Character Education. But, highlighting the Character Education programs with more parental engagement is a good first step. This can be done without adding too much additional cost; however, it does take time and effort to plan good activities.

Easy Ideas for Character Education Activities for Anyone

There are so many free Character Education Activities available for teachers and parents online. Pinterest also has printable worksheets that anyone can use to promote these lessons. All lessons need to be discussed and connected to real-life situations if we expect them to manifest as a component of character.

Here are a few suggestions for everyday Character Education Lessons:

Make regular eye-contact with your children. Not just during corrections. Make eye contact during every conversation as you would with someone you respect and smile often. Show empathy for mistakes. Teach children if he/she is not happy with his choice, he can make another one. Demonstrate accountability. As a parent or role model, admit your own mistakes and openly discuss how you might make a different choice the next time. Remember: When you’re not looking, kids are much more likely to do as you do; not as you say. Don’t blame! Blame may advance one horizontally, but it will never grow one vertically.

Learn about the Nurtured Heart Theory. This program teaches how to specifically identify a child’s positive behaviors and why that behavior is beneficial to the child him/herself and others. The purpose is to help build on a child’s innate strengths while setting ground rules for “Absolute No” behaviors. Example: Instead of saying to a child, “good job.” It’s better to specifically identify the positive behavior you wish to grow and talk about why it’s valuable. We are who we know ourselves to be. In time, the child will begin to identify him/herself with the characteristics you highlight:

“I noticed that you invited her to play the game with you. That really made her feel accepted. You are a very loving sister.”

“I am so impressed that you picked up the toy without me asking. You’re very helpful.”

“I noticed you tried very hard to avoid arguing with your sister. You are really good at solving problems.”

Disney movies are great Character Education builders. When watching, take note that the main character is always flawed, which represents a “human value.” The main character will encounter a problem and usually fail at solving the problem at least three times (known as the Rule of Three in writing) before ultimately finding the solution. The character will go through a transformation by the end of the story as a result of solving a problem or meeting the desired goal. The main character is never “perfect.”

Perfection is actually a negative state of being. Perfect implies a higher standard of performance in comparison to everyone else leaving no room for growth or development. People who believe themselves to be perfect have difficulty accepting simple mistakes. He/she will usually blame the error on someone else instead of seeing it as an opportunity to learn. Use Disney movies as learning tools when possible. Discuss the flaws, the failures, the lessons, the positive characteristics, and the transformation. Connect to real-life situations the child or other family members have experienced.

If your child likes Superheroes, get involved and play with them. Discuss that all Superheroes are flawed (again, they are designed to highlight the human value). They often have an identified weakness or fear (i.e. Superman’s weakness is kryptonite). A character ONLY becomes a Hero because he/she has earned respect. A hero is not someone who lacks fear. A Hero is defined as someone who feels fear but performs some important act despite the fear. While playing with your children, use your imagination and talk about the hero’s flaws, failures, and lessons learned. Teach children the true meaning of a hero.

If your child plays a sport, goes to dance, attends a club or is in some type of competition or social group, teach them how to win graciously and lose without being personally defeated. Also, encourage the winners to congratulate the losers.

Character Education is the foundation of youth development. It needs to be taught, modeled, practiced, and acknowledged. Reward your child whenever possible with a Good Citizenship Award. You can print one from Pinterest or any scholastic website. It is known that what we focus on will expand. Anytime your child does a good deed, reward it and it will expand!

Guiding the future in a positive direction: Not only will your child grow in good character, so will you!

Author's Bio: 

Cherie Scheurich: Director, teacher, social advocate, and author of children's books (Character Education Series) shares the importance of teaching children Character Education skills in an attempt to facilitate a safer environment for our children to grow and live. Cherie Scheurich's newest book is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Can Brothers Be Friends? and a new Character Education Series, The Goofy Newfi Fan Club (series) will be available in the very near future.