IF character is influenced by our background, religious or philosophical beliefs, education, and experience, THEN character development is a complex, lifelong process.
We can help build a child’s moral and ethical character by modeling the way we want them to act. We can teach by example, and coach along the way. When we hold ourselves and any children in our stewardship to the highest ethical and moral standards, we reinforce the values or principles those standards embody. They spread like the ripples from a pebble dropped into a pond.
Ways to help develop strong moral and ethical character include:
- IF James Allen’s statement that we are, “the master of thought, the molder of character, and maker and shaper of condition, environment, and destiny.” is correct, THEN help them know that what we do and what we think about determines what we are and what we will become. We let them know they are the builder.
- IF habits build character, THEN we can encourage the children to build good habits of thought and model such good habits of thought (manifest to the child by our actions).There is no faking it with kids. They see right through adult hypocrisy, whether fleeting or constantly on display. The Boy Scout motto is Be Prepared. IF character is revealed, not developed in moments of great challenge or ethical/moral temptation, THEN we can encourage their preparation before the inevitable tests that will come.
- IF strong moral character results from consistent correct moral choices in the trials and testing of life, THEN adults can help guide the child to those correct choices before 8 years old and help them use their own values and their faith as a guide from 8 years of age and on. Although early childhood may need more guidance, as they pass 12 years of age, it may be more effective to allow what Scouting used to call Guided Discovery–a method of letting the child make the decisions and only stepping in when their choices risk significant negative impact. Have them observe others and discuss.
- IF the types of choices the child makes form their character, THEN another way adults can help 8-year-olds and up is to point out not only the positive moral or ethical choice and its impact on their character, but also to point out the corresponding negative choice and its negative impact.Waiting until 8 is a capacity issue. Children tend to have more capacity from eight and on.
- IF decision making is choosing from among alternatives, THEN to develop the child’s budding decision-making, they need to understand both the yin and the yang, the good and the bad, the positive and the negative so they can choose between them.
- IF the child’s choices determine how their “movie of character development” will play out for the remainder of their lives, THEN because we are developing leaders, we need to nurture their their own capacity to make good choices.
- IF the child is to grow, THEN adults can gently and patiently encourage children to make the ethically and morally right decisions, but those choices must not be all prescribed by adults.
- IF their decision making process is aided when the child can ponder, pray, and exercise faith to willingly make choices consistent with their values, and IF this type of personal decision making sets the foundation for later effectiveness in leader roles, THEN adults can provide just enough guidance to lead the child aright, in what Chaos theory calls initial conditions.
- IF overbearing adult behaviors can delay the child’s character development, THEN adults bear a duty not to weaken the child’s growing character. IF character is grown slowly, THEN teach and model patience. IF what Isaiah taught in ancient times is correct, “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” THEN there is no immediate ‘download package’ of character, The Matrix movie notwithstanding.
- Adults can help children grow plants to see growth unfold slowly over time and use that as a discussion point for likening it to character growth.
- IF the landmarks on the character development journey include correct principles and values, THEN adults can teach and model that living in congruence with your values and such principles brings personal peace, and internal harmony.