How to Raise a Good Kid: 10 Strategies that Build Strong Character

by | Jul 12, 2010 | Character and Moral Intelligence, Discipline & Behavior, Empathy and Kindness

Let’s play “Back to the Future” and pretend it’s twenty-five years from now. Your kids are grown and they’re healthy and happy. They’ve now come back for a family reunion. Here’s the key question: What character traits do you hope to see most in your grown child?

Here’s a hint and critical parenting point: Character traits differ from temperament and personality like “outgoing, reserved, sensitive, shy, laid-back” and are largely genetically coded. The temperaments of my three sons that I recall in the first year of their lives are largely the same temperaments I see in them as young men today.

Character is defined by those great home-spun virtues like honest, perseverance, compassion, responsible, respectful and those trait can be nurtured and reinforced.So what character trait do you hope to see most in your grown child? For instance, do you hope he is respectful, frugal, appreciative, tolerant or fair? (There is no right answer. Over 400 virtues have been identified over time. Your task is to identify those that matter most to you and your family).

And your answer is critical. You see,  if you identify your answer you are actually far more likely to see that character trait in your adult child. That is, of course, if you take time now to think through how you want your child to turn out, and then use a few research-based strategies proven to nurture children’s character in your day to day parenting.

Over the past years I’ve spoken to thousand of parents (over one million now)and worked with  hundreds of schools. The one key point that I always try to convey that the moral intelligence habits and beliefs our kids learn now will help guide their behavior for the rest of their lives. After all, one of our most important parenting goals is to help our kids learn to act right without us. Achieving that goal will take deliberate and intentional parenting–especially in today’s world which openly flaunts inappropriate values to our kids.

10 Parenting Strategies That Raise Children of Strong Characater

Here are ten parenting strategies that will help you raise your child so he or she The character-building strategies are adapted from my books, Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues That Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing and The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries and are based on the work some of the best research in character development. So roll up your sleeves, and get started:

1. Commit to Raising A Moral Child. Research finds that parents who feel strongly about their kids turning out morally usually succeed because they committed themselves to that effort. If you really want to raise a moral child, then make a personal commitment to raise one, and then don’t stop until he does.

2. Be a Strong Moral Example. Parents are their children’s first and most powerful moral teachers, so make sure the moral behaviors your kids are picking up from you are ones that you want them to copy. Try to make your life a living example of good moral behavior for your child to see. Each day ask yourself: “If my child had only my behavior to watch, what example would he catch?” The answer is often quite telling.

3. Know Your Beliefs & Share Them. Before you can raise a moral child, you must be clearly about what believe in. Take time to think through your values then share them regularly to your child explaining why you feel the way you do. He’ll be hearing endless messages that counter your beliefs, so it’s essential that he hears about your standards.

4. Use Teachable Moments. The best teaching moments aren’t ones that are planned-they happen unexpectedly. Look for moral issues to talk about as they come up. Take advantage of those moments because they help your child develop solid moral beliefs.

5. Use Discipline as a Moral Lesson. Effective discipline should ensure that the child not only recognizes why her behavior was wrong but also knows what to do to make it right next time. So help your child always reflect on the consequences of his actions: “Was that the right thing to do? Why? What should you do next time? What will you do?” That way your child learns from his mistakes and grows morally.

6. Expect Moral Behavior. Kids who act morally have parents who expect them to do so. It sets a standard for your child’s conduct and also lets her know in no uncertain terms what you value. So post your moral standards at home then consistently reinforce them until your child internalizes them so they become his rules, too. Remember your ultimate goal is to wean your child from your guidance so he acts right on his own.

7. Reflect on the Behaviors’ Effects. Researchers tell us one of the best moral-building practices is to point out the impact of the child’s behavior on the offended: “See, you made her cry.” Or highlight the victim’s feeling (“Now he feels bad”). Help your child imagine what it would be like to be in the victim’s place so she will be more sensitive to how her behavior impacts others.

8. Reinforce Moral Behaviors. One of the simplest ways to help kids learn new behaviors is to reinforce them as they happen. So purposely catch your child acting morally and acknowledge her good behavior by describing what she did right and why you appreciate it.

9. Prioritize Strong Character Daily. Encourage your child to lend a hand to make a difference in his world, and always help him recognize the positive effect the gesture had on the recipient. The real goal is for kids to become less and less dependent on adult guidance by incorporating moral principles into their daily lives and making them their own. That can happen only if parents emphasize the importance of the virtues over and over and their kids repeatedly practice those moral behaviors.

10. Incorporate the Golden Rule. Teach your child the Golden Rule that has guided many civilizations for centuries: “Treat others as you want to be treated.” It helps him think about his behavior and its consequences on others. Make the rule become your family’s over-arching moral principal. There is no better rule to guide moral intelligence.

One thing is clear: kids don’t learn how to be moral from reading about it in textbooks but from day to day living. So become a living textbook to your children of good moral living.Just remember: Using simple but proven strategies can make real differences on your children’s lives—especially when you choose ones that matter most in raising good kids then commit to making them become a habit in your daily parenting.

For more strategies on building character and raising good kids follow me on twitter @micheleborba or go to my website at MicheleBorba.  The ideas from this blog were adapted from my book, Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues That Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing (Jossey Bass).