Parents play an essential role in shaping a child’s character. Wherever you are in your parenting journey, it’s wise to set aside time to reflect on how to nurture the best character traits in your children. Here is a helpful list of character traits for kids that you can start teaching today.
10 Positive Character Traits Parents Should Teach Kids
To teach character and personality traits, you must live them yourself. You need to “walk the walk” of the qualities you want to transmit—not just “talk the talk.” Children need to see you acting in alignment with the core values you teach. Only then will they genuinely embrace the value of those traits in their own lives. To get a better sense for the qualities you are teaching your children and how that is impacting your family culture, consider taking this family culture assessment with your partner and children.
10 Positive Character Traits to Teach Our Kids
As a parent, you want what is best for your kids. You may be actively involved in school and helping them stay focused academically. But if you truly want them to succeed in life, it’s important to nurture their character and personality, too.
Often, kids never encounter any formal training or education on character. Instead, they learn through what they witness and experience every day. Parents are the primary teacher of family values and character qualities that children need to develop as healthy human beings.
Kindness is one of the most important positive character traits to teach children. A kind person treats others as they would wish to be treated. Kind people are typically generous, friendly, and compassionate. We’ve all felt the warmth and caring of the kind people in our life. But researchers have proven the value of kindness as well. Scientific studies have shown that giving to others instead of keeping resources for yourself improves well-being. And kindness is one of the key qualities of a successful marriage.
At a young age, many children are naturally self-centered. In fact, research has shown that our developing immature brains don’t innately motivate us to be altruistic. As we grow, we can start to see the benefit of doing what is best for others, even if it’s less beneficial to ourselves.
You can teach kindness through your words and actions, and by taking note of others’ needs. A simple action like holding a door for someone who is carrying packages shows respect. Or, you can bring food to elderly or homebound neighbors. Sharing positive words and compliments are examples of kindness that your children can learn to emulate.
Children should also learn the value of hard work and discipline from a young age. They should know that it’s important to try their best and not give up when they face a hard passage. Perseverance, also known as grit, is one of the key personality traits that helps kids succeed at school—and in life.
When facing a challenge, a person perseveres by maintaining control of their mind, body, and emotions. If a person is able to find the strength to keep trying despite difficulty, that person will eventually achieve mastery and reach long-term goals. However, it’s important to know when it is time to move on and focus on something different. A person with a well-developed sense of perseverance knows when to work hard and when to shift their efforts to different goals.
Life is overwhelming sometimes, even for kids. When troubles hit, it’s easy for anyone to fall into patterns of negative thinking and defeatist feelings. But when you teach your kids resilience, they’ll learn to weather life’s storms with dignity.
As a parent, you’ll likely want to shield kids from all the hard things in life. It’s true that adult concerns need to be kept between adults. But including your kids in manageable issues can teach them not to feel engulfed by difficulties.
For example, what should you do if your child is struggling at school or facing a bullying situation? Yes, you may need to advocate for your kids, but include them in problem-solving when you can. Talk to your kids about the challenges and how they feel. Ask for their ideas and solutions. With this approach, you can teach kids that personal and family problems aren’t insurmountable and reinforce their resilience.
Sometimes we all need to face things that make us nervous. You may hate public speaking, for example. But if you avoid it completely, you could miss out on career or personal opportunities.
It’s important to teach kids how to step into situations that make them uncomfortable. One great way to do this is by getting them involved in activities that encourage them to stand up in front of a crowd. Dance or music lessons or sports can be good avenues to cultivate courage at a young age.
As they grow, encourage them to take on more individual challenges. A move from a team to an individual sport is one option. You can also get your kids involved in activities like martial arts, pageants, or theatre. When kids can acknowledge what makes them nervous, but face those fears and overcome them, they learn courage through experience. And the sense of pride and accomplishment and gratification they feel as they push through their fears will become part of their incentive for facing their fears in the future. And the courage they develop now will be an asset to them throughout the positive and negative phases of life.
Developing strong self-esteem is essential for kids. But you don’t want them to feel self-important or to look down on others. Cultivating genuine humility is valuable for every child.
Role-playing is a great tool to practice humility. Talk through different scenarios with your kids and model prideful and humble behavior. For example, consider different behaviors someone can exhibit when they get an A on a test or earn a spot on a competitive sports team. A prideful person would brag about the accomplishment and take all the credit. By contrast, a humble person would recognize those who have helped them and offer praise and encouragement to others.
Children can grasp the concept of honesty from an early age. An honest person is truthful, moral and sincere. When people aren’t honest, they may lie, steal and deceive others. They may even have a broken moral compass. It’s easy to see and feel that honesty builds positive relationships, while dishonesty breeds mistrust.
What can you do to teach kids honesty? You can reward kids for telling the truth. Often, parents are quick to scold kids for not telling the truth, but rewards for honesty are less common. Even a simple hug and a “thank you” can send a message about the importance of honesty.
Also, you can teach kids to speak up in difficult situations. What if your child knows that a friend has cheated on several tests? Your child should talk to the friend about this wrong choice. This conversation is extremely difficult to have, but it’s what is best for the friend. If your child’s friend refuses to act, the next step is to talk with a teacher. Scenarios like this one teach kids that honesty isn’t always easy, but it’s always the right answer.
Many kids react strongly to perceived injustices. If a peer doesn’t share, take turns, or follow the rules, a child will often proclaim, “That’s not fair!”
You can find many teaching moments to transmit the value of fairness. From a young age, you can play games that encourage turn-taking with children. When everyone gets an equal number of turns, it promotes fair play. Also, look for books and movies that contain characters that act in fair and unfair ways. Point out those characters and situations and talk about how they relate to everyday life.
Research has shown that many kids innately value their own accomplishments over helping others. Where do they learn this? They get these messages from their parents. If you’re constantly praising kids for grades and sports accomplishments, they’ll think those things matter most to you. When that happens, they’re likely to put their own needs first—often at the expense of others.
Developing empathy helps make kids better community contributors. They can see the value in the contributions of all people and look for ways to support others in doing their best. Ultimately, this emotional intelligence can help them succeed in future careers.
You can model empathy for kids by being compassionate towards others—especially towards those people who are clearly different from you. Engaging with a wide circle of people and taking part in community activities are excellent ways to express empathy. Remember that your kids are always observing and learning from your choices, behaviors and the family culture you establish.
Keep in mind that neuroresearch has shown that the brain’s ability to experience empathy is primarily enhanced when children are actively involved in face-to-face interactions where empathy is felt. Thus, helping serve dinner at the homeless shelter will do much more for a child’s capacity for empathy than dropping off food to the local food bank.
Resourcefulness is one of the positive character traits that will serve kids well in school and life. And resourcefulness isn’t as prevalent today as it was in the past. In prior generations, children did not have had all the conveniences that modern children have. Also, children of the past didn’t have instant access to information on the Internet. They had to look for opportunities and solutions—and use what was available in innovative ways.
You can teach your children resourcefulness by having them seek out answers on their own at times. If your child asks you to give them ideas for good birthday party games, invite your child to search for ideas on the internet, and if need be, show them how to do that. Pursue activities that help them find new uses for everyday objects. These options help them stretch their thinking and see potentials instead of roadblocks.
When you hear the word creativity, you may think of artistic expression—but there’s more to the concept. Creativity is part of any activity that helps children use their imaginations and envision new ideas. If they are complaining about a chore, challenge them to think of a better way of accomplishing the chore, or a tool that might help make the chore easier, even if that means creating a makeshift tool. When individuals tap into their creativity, they can build critical thinking and communication skills—both of which are critical for success in life.
You can seek out creative activities for your children. Opportunities like dance, music, theater, photography, and art are all avenues for creative expression. But you can do many creative things at home—from telling stories to baking together. Don’t forget that science and technology require creative thinking as well.
One of the best ways to encourage creativity is to have unstructured time in your days. And you may need to limit access to screens and electronics. Instead of engaging with worlds that others have created through games and shows, encourage your children to develop their own characters and stories. Kids need the freedom to play and invent in order to tap into their creative selves.
Every Parent Should Teach Kids Good Character Traits
Parents are teachers—they should be a child’s strongest role model of positive character traits. The truth is that children will develop good or bad character traits based on what they witness. If they can’t look up to parents as role models, they may take moral cues from others with less-desirable behaviors. The importance of family in building positive character in kids can never be underestimated.
It's critical that you take time to reflect upon and identify your moral values and beliefs—and consciously model positive character traits for your children. Use our character traits list as a starting point and add other qualities you want to pass on to your kids. Depending on your family situation and composition, you may want to emphasize other traits as well. For example, if you’re a mother, you may want to teach your daughters to love their bodies to avoid the risk of self-shaming and low self-esteem.
Remember that all your actions and decisions can provide a lesson to your children. Know your values and the character traits you want to embody and use them as a guide in every situation. You can help your children develop good manners and healthy conflict resolution skills that are crucial for building positive relationships. Their sense of self-worth and happiness can flourish—and those strengths will set them on a course for a positive future.