Can character be taught?

To some, this question might be a given. To others, the ability to teach character isn’t so certain. There are some parents who equate character with personality. These are the parents who stand by the idea that character cannot be taught. I agree that personality traits cannot be taught, but character is another story.

Let’s make the distinction between personality and character.

Personality traits include:

  • Adventurous
  • Chatty
  • Reserved
  • Cautious

Character traits include:

  • Respectful
  • Polite
  • Honest
  • Selfless

Personality traits are what make us the unique individuals we are. Character traits are what allow us to peacefully exist with others.

So can character be taught? Most definitely. In On Becoming Childwise, the Ezzos say:

“One of the first challenges for parents is to discover what character traits they desire to see in their children. They also need to determine what traits they don’t want to show up….Think about the teens you know. We have all met teens, pre-teens, and even younger children with whom we enjoy spending time. They are sociable, courteous, respectful, gracious, motivated, and genuine.

“What is it about these kids that make being with them enjoyable? What allows you to have fun with them (and them with you) without having to stoop to a buddy status? There seems to be a common thread between them: These children possess a moral maturity.”

Identifying character traits is just the first step of this years-long character-training process we call parenting. Having established the notion that character can be taught, I will spend the coming weeks discussing the factors that enable us to build a moral foundation within our children. These posts will center on the moral precepts as outlined in Childwise. They are:

  • Teach the way of virtue, not just the avoidance of wrong.
  • Moral training begins in parents’ hearts.
  • Know the why of moral training.
  • Provide the why of practical training.
  • Make moral judgments by examining context.
  • Avoid legalism when giving instruction.

You can walk away from this post (and future posts on moral training) with one of three attitudes. You can feel burdened by the idea of having to teach your children moral principles. You can ignore the idea altogether. Or you can be inspired by the fact that you can teach your children to behave in a way that will earn you (and them) accolades from friends, teachers, family members and even strangers.

I hope it’s the latter. Stay tuned for more!


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