The kids are back in school, which means they'll not only learn to read and write, but they'll learn from their peers as well.
They will learn that some kids are nice and some are mean, that some are honest and some are cheats. They will learn the "in" brand of sneakers and how many kids in the fourth grade already have their own iPhone.
And in putting themselves in the public sphere, they will begin to shape their own character.
Some of that is good. And some may be to their detriment.
I heard in a recent podcast with author and columnist David Brooks that the majority of children used to talk about how they wanted to make the world a better place.
Now they talk about being rich and famous.
Society does little to reinforce character and almost nothing to reward it. This makes the job of families and educators ever more important if we want to raise kids with character. Here's how:
1. Don't give them everything they want
Delay gratification. Make the simple pleasures a surprise and delight.
2. Learn to say no, and stick to it
Be comfortable with your child's discomfort. Create rules and boundaries. Children with permissive parents grow to be permissive adults with no bearings.
3. Call your children out for their good behavior, not their accomplishments
We put so much emphasis today on what our kids can do, not who they are. Praise them when they are honest, when they speak kindly to a sibling, when they stop to help someone on the street or open the door for a stranger.
4. Teach them
Talk about honesty. Talk about kindness. Give children the tools to use these character traits. I'm not opposed to the anti-bullying campaigns that have swept through schools across the country, but I think it's handled wrong. Call it the kindness campaign. Instead of teaching kids the don'ts, teach them the do's.
5. Model good character
Treat others with respect. Talk kindly to service workers who come into your home. Smile at the cashier in the checkout line. Deal honestly with others. Keep your online comments thoughtful. Elevate your language. Make your home a place free of gossip and ridicule. Your children are watching.
6. Teach children how to interact with adults
They are going to be adults someday and they need to learn how to respect and treat their elders. Teach them to look adults in the eye, greet them by name, ask how they are doing and say thank you.
7. Have children write thank you notes
Teach them about gratitude. When they pray, make sure they express thanks. When they receive presents or someone cooks them a meal, teach them to say thank you. Talk as a family about your blessings, especially those that are non-material.
8. Teach them to work hard and serve others
Enlist children in chores every day. Don't do for your kids what they can do for themselves. Replace Saturday entertainment with Saturday service.
9. Give them literature that reinforces character
Public schools and universities used to be focused on educating the whole child. Where you see that lacking, fill in the gaps with scripture, biographies, fiction and memoirs that point toward character life lessons.
The moments in which a parent teaches character are rarely big and profound. They happen in the cracks of the day, over plates of spaghetti at the dinner table, with each goodnight hug, with a text to a son at soccer practice and in traffic on the interstate.
Life is the vehicle through which we teach character. It's up to us to remember who's in the driver's seat.