Building Character

Building Character

We hold in our hearts the idea that our children will end up as upright, moral citizens contributing to society in self- fulfilling ways and passing down the family values to yet another generation.   Many factors combine to create morality in people.  The environment plays its part, the DNA (which is really an allotment of karma) of the child is there from birth and can override some messages from the environment, strong examples in family members can reinforce moral temperament as can something as simple as having a happy family meal time to share family values each day. Some would suggest that going to worship together is important and others would choose other forms of family sharing such as community service as essential for training children in morality.  We want to build character in our children.

You cannot lead where you have not gone.  So model for your children your own moral thinking.  Reflect on this definition:

   Character is not about a person’s temperament or personality.  It is the moral restraint or encouragement of his temperament.  It is the outward reflection of the inner person.  Character reflects our morality and our morality defines our character.  Virtues are independent of temperament. How children learn morality will differ, but what they learn about morality should be based on the same principles.  Do not lower the standard to fit the child.  Train the child to rise up to the standard. Don’t give before the child asks and don’t prolong crying to the point of helplessness.  Train the child that he must put a demand on life, but also that life will respond to that demand with help.[1]

Seligman and Peterson studied the world’s philosophies to determine seven global characteristics of character.  These are optimism, social intelligence, self-control, zest, grit, gratitude and curiosity.[2] I read a very interesting article dealing with teaching middle school and high school students how to have character.  The article compared two schools – one a private upper class academy with affluent children and the other a public school with low income children on measures of character as defined.  What they found was that the children in the prep school did not have higher character.   The researchers also examined graduates of Harvard to see if they had these characteristics and found that amongst all these students, those who were not successful, no matter what their parent’s income, were lacking in these character traits.  They found that those with high scores in grit had higher G.P.A’s regardless of their I.Q. as well.  Thus, this study found that these 7 traits, including self-control are a greater predictor of success than I.Q.[2]

The researchers had this advice for parents.

“…in fact, we have an acute, almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts both large and small.  And yet we all know –on some level, at least –that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship; some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can.  As a parent, you struggle with these thorny questions every day, and if you make the right call even half the time, you’re lucky.”…[3]

“The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure….and in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.” [4]

We lead with love.   Hopefully it will be unconditional love. Sometimes, we overdo the love aspect and fall short on letting children experience challenging situations where they can learn to have “grit”.  We rescue them by showering them with love in a moment when they need to struggle and overcome for themselves.  These situations build strength of character and that is our end goal.  So, keep your eye on the goal of character building and allow the child to self-determine their behavior in times of crisis.   I think you will find, as you analyze your life, that having a heart full of gratitude for what you have received, your opportunities, your downfalls, people who have been kind to you, even those who have taught you something unpleasant about yourself that you didn’t want to know, will get you farther, faster.  Grit sounds like a” gritty” word, but it seems research is saying that it is the staying power we need to keep on keeping on.
[1] Tough, P., (2011).  The character test.  New York Times, October 30

[2] Seligman, M. (2002). Authentic happiness, using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment.  NY, New York:  Simon & Schuster Inc
[3] Ibid. p. 205
[4] Tough, P. (2011). The character test. New York Times, October 30

Dr. Celeste Miller

Wings of Light

Wings of Light

What the NEA Says Kids Need

What the NEA Says Kids Need

Grit is a quality that has been identified by the National Education Association (NEA) as the quality, above all others, that guarantees the success of a student in school and later in life.  Not DNA, not I.Q., not taking accelerated courses, not doing well on academic testing, but grit.  Grit is a difficult concept to define.  The author, Paul Tough has given us his understanding in the recently published book, How Children Succeed:  Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.  He says grit includes the qualities of perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control and that these are the ultimate keys to success.

So let’s examine how, or if, a Montessori education is developing grit in children.  I can think of any number of activities that might contribute to this. Giving children physically challenging activities in the practical life materials sets the stage, even as early as age 2, for overcoming obstacles.  Experiences like getting all the grains of rice poured back into the bowl without spilling any, carrying a long rod that is longer than your arms outstretched across the room without hitting anyone with it on the way, carrying a heavy chair and placing it quietly on the floor, picking up the beans that you have spilled on the floor one at a time until they are back in their container, are just a few that come to mind.  And for the older primary child, skip counting all the beads on the 1000 bead chain over a series of days is certainly an arduous task.  Yes, most, if not all, Montessori classroom activities would potentially build a sense of responsibility, stick-to-itiveness, and task completion.  The need to do the “job” correctly – any Montessori piece of material – is applied to all children, regardless of their backgrounds or talents. The end result for many children is the development of “perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control”, the very qualities Tough is promoting.  This is the great beauty of the Montessori approach and the end result is now being validated by mainstream education experts as parents everywhere are being told to help their children develop grit.  I say to the NEA, “What took you so long?”

There is a term normalization that is used in the Montessori lingo.  It refers to whether a child has acclimated to the Montessori environment. Thus, teachers speak of whether a child is normalized or not.  I prefer the word accommodated.  Nonetheless, the reactions the teacher hopes to see are the same.  Has a child learned the routines of work and found joy in facing the challenges the materials present? If so, this would be the obvious first phase of the development of grit.  This process of self-mastery begins with the feeling of accomplishment and self-pride that children feel when a difficult task has been mastered.  You can see it on their faces without them even telling you what they have done.  This is how to build character.  This is why Montessori teachers do not interfere with the work of the child and why there is a control of error inherent in each activity so they don’t have to interfere for self-control to develop and learning to occur.

So, we need to remember not to make things too easy for children in our homes.  Let them struggle a little to end up with the satisfaction of having overcome an obstacle. Montessori said never do for the child what they can do for themselves. In the end their accomplishments will build character and the other mysterious qualities in the word grit that are now considered so important in learning.

Dr. Celeste Miller

Catalina, AZ

Mrs. Great Horned Owl