I’ve written previously about what we can do as parents to promote self-reliance in our children and about developing wellness and social skills in our children. Today I’d like to discuss what parents can do to shape character and promote virtues in children.

Commitment to teaching values, setting limits, and encouraging tolerance of frustration are essential to shaping character and promoting virtues such as patience, postponement of gratification, and cooperation.

There is a reason for the popular saying “Patience is a virtue.” Being patient implies that you have self-control. Thomas Jefferson said, “Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” Patience allows us to accomplish that. Patience is a powerful virtue, the possession of which can make a person’s life more manageable.

We live in an instant gratification kind of world, but being able to work hard at something now for a benefit to be arrived at later is a virtue to reach toward and to instill in our children. Research has shown that a child’s ability to delay gratification is an indicator for success later in life financially and otherwise. The famous Stanford marshmallow experiment demonstrates this.

The value of being able to cooperate is obvious. As humans, we are constantly interacting with other humans, beginning at a very young age and continuing throughout our lifetimes. Being able to cooperate allows us to work productively with others to reach a common goal and to do so peacefully. It’s easy to see that the absence of this virtue would be quite detrimental to a person’s life, especially in adulthood.

We can instill these virtues in our children through an ongoing commitment to teaching them. We have to be ever mindful of encouraging our children to not become frustrated when tasks are difficult or when things take longer than expected. Praising patience and rewarding demonstrations of cooperation are good tools to implement.

Limit setting is critically important as well. Children crave boundaries and do very well when they know what those boundaries are and what the consequences of crossing them are. To set limits with children, you have to communicate what the rules are very clearly, describe the consequences, and follow through when a rule is broken. Leaving out any of the components can compromise the effectiveness of your strategy so be sure to do them all.

What have your experiences been with instilling virtues in your children? What do you think are the most important virtues we can teach our kids? Share your comments.

-Dr. Erica Miller