One of the most important benefits of homeschooling for me is getting to teach character. Yes, most schools teach character. They all have neat little programs with monthly themes that teach character traits. But our nation sorely lacks character. For example, our society has so many jokes about crooked politicians, who are supposed to be examples.
Truth is character education is a coin toss when it comes to efficacy. Some think it’s a problem with the disconnect between what is good character in children (compliant, meek, obedient) and what we see as good character in adults (strong, leaders, steadfast). Meaning that we drill kids into obedience rather than teaching them to think about the gray areas of life and puzzle out the moral reaction. Alfie Kohn says it best “The point is to drill students in specific behaviors rather than to engage them in deep, critical reflection about certain ways of being.” (Citation)
How do we teach kids to be good people? Two ways: modeling and teaching them what is expected.
Modeling is simple enough. Your children are going to imitate you. Want children that are hard working? Start off by showing them how hard you work. Honest kids? Show them how to be honest. Modeling is the most important factor in producing children of great character. Read them stories full of characters worth emulating. Read (or watch) biographies with people with notable character.
Second, make sure your child knows what is expected of them. For older kids, explain it a few times, going into detail as needed. This can be quite hard with young children, but there are several ways to accomplish this, but pretend play is the best.
For example, if you want them to sit still and open their mouth for the dentist, start a few weeks before the appointment. While brushing your kid’s teeth, tell them “In a while, you’re going to go to the dentist. He and his nurses are going to clean your teeth. They will scrub in between them. They will have a vacuum, a special spinning brush that makes a loud sound, and special, delicious toothpaste. It’s important to sit very still so they can clean your teeth. It’s important to keep your mouth open very wide so you don’t bite the dentist.” Then pretend to be the dentist and ask them to open wide. Pretend to poke around their mouth a like a dentist does. Get them used to the idea of keeping their mouth open for a dentist. Repeat this process several times in the weeks leading up to the appointment.
Another example, eating a restaurant. Sit your child at table, and explain that, “eating out is a lot of fun, but it also means that you must sit so you don’t get burned by the hot food the servers are carrying.” Explain every important aspect such as “You can’t touch the beautiful decorations on the table or the salt/sugar/syrup etc.” Then pretend to be a server. Put on the whole shebang. Start at your front door. Pretend you are a hostess, seat them at the table with menus, serve them their food, wait while they eat, and let them pay a check. While you are going through this process, stop them from doing things that are off limits. If a child starts to get up, remind them to sit unless they must go to the bathroom. Remove the decor if they start to play with it. Then when you go out to eat for real, remind them to practice these skills.
Remember: no child is perfect so all children will, at some point, not fulfill your expectations. It’s fine. Get back on your horse and keep riding.
Lastly, young children will probably take much time to remember and abide by your expectations. Their brains aren’t built for self control yet. That takes time, practice, and close attachments with caregivers to bloom fully.