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5 Ways to Build Character in Your Kids

How do you work to build character in your kids? I've been thinking about this question a lot recently. I think many parents think developing character will just happen. Kids will just "pick it up" from watching good examples. And modeling character traits IS important, but I'm also believing more and more that we need to deliberately and explicitly teach our kids the character traits we value.

How to Build Character

Today is Character Day, an initiative founded by Emmy-nominated filmmaker and Webby Awards founder, Tiffany Shlain that engages schools, corporations, universities, civic- and faith-based organizations, families and other groups in a global conversation about the importance of character building in today’s increasingly distracted and overly-connected world. Currently there are more than 62,000 scheduled Character Day events in more than 96 countries as well as a 24-hour Global LiveCast Q&A with 80 experts around the world speaking on how character relates to our health, digital citizenship, learning, moral achievement, resilience, parenting and much more. A few of the speakers you can log on to hear:

  • Randi Weingarten, President, The American Federation of Teachers
  • Dr. Michael Rich M.D., MPH, Founder Center on Media and Child Health
  • Julie Lythcott Haims, Author, How to Raise an Adult: Breaking Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success
  • Chris Loo, Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion, Hack Harassment, Mountain View, California
  • Sal Khan, Founder and CEO of Khan Academy
  • Martin Seligman, Ph.D. Director, Positive Psychology Center and Professor of Psychology, University of Penn
  • Angela Duckworth, Ph.D. Professor of Psychology, University of Penn. Author, GRIT
  • Marc Brackett, Ph.D. Director, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

You can see all the speakers, their topics and when they'll be on here. There are are videos for kids and adults to watch and downloadable questions you can use around the dinner table.

character traits

Don't have time today to visit to celebrate? Here are five other ideas for helping to create and build character in your kids.

Get inspired. The idea of providing your child with character education can be overwhelming, but you can get inspired and motivated to start by doing some reading of your own. I'm in the middle of reading UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World which provides practical ways to teach kids empathy and enjoyed How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success and The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Moneyearlier this year. What character books have inspired you? Let us know in the comments.

Pick one. I love this periodic table of character traits that they provide as a poster on, but it can be overwhelming to think of how to raise a child who excels in ALL these areas. So like many things in life, start small. Choose one character trait to focus on for the month or the year or until you decide to switch to a different one. Maybe involve the whole family in choosing one to focus on or vote on which one your kids think the family needs to work on. You can also search for relevant resources here by choosing a character trait and the age group you want materials for.


Make it visual. Help your family focus on a character trait by visually putting the word up. This set of free, downloadable cards has 24 different character traits along with key attributes of each, and cards with quotes about the trait. There are directions that explain four different activities you can do with the cards, but I'm going to start by putting one or two up on our fridge or the bathroom mirror.

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Find everyday examples. While there are specific books and shows and activities designed to help kids think about and develop character traits, you can find examples - good and bad - to talk about everywhere. From the election politics to schoolyard antics, problems with siblings to issues on your family's favorite TV show, you don't have to look far to find reasons to bring up character traits like honesty, kindness, courage, curiosity and generosity.

Share your own dilemmas. Some kids can turn up their nose at character education when they feel like it's portrayed as information adults have and kids need to be taught. In fact, we ALL could use reminders about being kind and honest and having self-control. Help kids see that this is a lifelong learning process by sharing struggles that happened at work or with your peers. Get them involved thinking up creative ways to handle problems, naming character traits that they see others using (or not using), and reminding them character is not created overnight or with a single act.


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