In the bygone era, when we could let our kids roam the neighborhood all day and check in when they got hungry, our young son came home from a busy day. At dinner, he said little. And afterward, he hung around slouching in a chair while I cleared up. It was unusual behavior so I tried talking to him, with little luck. Finally he said, “Mom, I need to tell Dad something.”
I called my husband Grit into the kitchen and we listened while our son haltingly told us about how he and his friend hit crab apples with a tennis racket from his friend’s backyard into the neighbor’s pool, making a mess. Worst of all, he said, the neighbor asked them if they had done it and he lied, “No.”
Grit talked to him for a bit and then explained the only way he would feel better was if he apologized to our neighbor and offered to clean out her pool for her. Together, they walked to our neighbor’s home, where he explained he was the one who did the deed. He offered to clean up the mess and got to work right away.
We were so pleased with our son at that moment. Although this wasn’t criminal behavior, he knew what he did wasn’t proper and he admitted his mistake.
Author and self improvement guru Stephen Covey wrote, “Don’t argue for other people’s weaknesses. Don’t argue for your own. When you make a mistake, admit it, correct it, and learn from it immediately.”
In a nutshell, this is what character is about—being able to see wrong, admit wrong and then correct wrong. A person of character will make the right choice and do the right thing even if no one is watching, even if the stakes are high.
These qualities are necessary no matter what our creed or culture is. They are universal, and they have been the same through all ages.
Covey also wrote, “If we do not teach our children, society will. And they, and we, will live with the results.”
How do we as parents go about teaching our children? First, we need to remember no one is a perfect parent, and as parents we also make mistakes. We need to be honest, as well, and admit when we are wrong.
Second, children learn many things about life by watching. If we really want our children to develop character, parents must be an example. We must consciously teach virtues and values, we must try to have harmony in the home. This can be done in family councils, at family nights, in daily chats at the dinner table, or simply during a family walk. We can take an angry child out for a milkshake, choosing a place far enough away that they may just open up and talk about something.
In other words, dialogue must be open and consistent. There needs to be give and take without judgment. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.
By // Sherry Young