Building good character in our children is the most important tasks we have as parents. It's a life-long process that begins with parents and continues hand-in-hand with our schools and community. But children learn the most about acting with integrity, morals and compassion from their home.

So often kids first hear of our value system or about middos when they are breaking the rules.

Here are four ways to reinforce our values and build good character in our children:

1. Role Modeling:

Our children are watching our every move. We need to be a living, breathing model of how life should be lived. If you want responsible children, you need to be responsible. If you want respectful children you need to be respectful. If you want grateful children, they need to see gratefulness in action. In general, children grow up to embrace the values of their parents. It may take a while for you to see the fruits of your labor, but eventually you'll see it.

This doesn't mean you have to be perfect. It's a great lesson for children to see their parents struggle with moral challenges and strive to be better. It is helpful to say to children, “I was so frustrated today, the computer wasn’t working and I really wanted to yell at the technician, but I kept my cool. I was polite, it was such an effort!”

And when you fail and lose it, use it as an opportunity to convey another lesson. “Boy, was I angry at the plumber today -- he promised he'd come in the morning but he showed up at the end of the day. I really let him have it! My anger got the best of me and I need to work on that!”

2. Articulate expectations:

Let your children know what's expected of them throughout the day as you set up their schedule and routine. Here are a few common examples:

Wake up in the morning:

  • We say Modeh Ani
  • We get dressed
  • We brush our teeth
  • We eat breakfast

When they come home from school:

  • We get a snack
  • We do homework
  • We play outside

Dinnertime:

  • We sit at the table for 5 minutes
  • We eat what is served or we can make our own sandwich
  • We make blessings
  • We ask to be excused

When we get angry:

  • We can find a place to calm down
  • We can count to ten
  • We can yell in our room

Obviously this doesn't mean a child will always follow the rules. He's not a robot. But when children understand how a routine works, have skills to manage their negative behavior, and understand what is expected of them, they've been set up for success and have a better chance of behaving with good character.

3. Catch phrases:

Short phrases are an effective way to convey and instill the values of your home. You can use them over and over again, like a broken record.

And it’s hard to argue with neutral and non-confrontational one-liners.

Cooperation: "In this family we clean up our toys after we use them."
Positivity: “In this family we look at the cup as half full!”
Perseverance: “In this family, we try to meet challenges head on!”
Responsibility: “In this family, we keep our word.”

4. Praising:

Be on the constant lookout for the good in their behavior.

When pointing out children’s good behavior we want to be as specific as possible and focus on the actual positive behavior that we are noticing. Phrases like “great job” or “good boy” are too general and don’t work. In the long run it just makes children feel more insecure and less capable.

Here are some examples of how we can use this technique to help our children improve their behavior and learn good character traits.

To encourage kindness:

Instead of focusing on the negative: “Why can’t you just share all of your toys with Sara?” Try this: "You gave Sarah one of your dolls. That doll is one of your favorites. That's sharing. You were being kind."

To encourage good manners:

Instead of focusing on the negative: “Why do I always have to remind you to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’?” Try this: "You said ‘please’ when you ordered your ice cream and ‘thank you’ when you got it. You know how to be polite."

Helping our children develop good character is one of the most important jobs we have as parents. Role modeling, articulating our expectations, using catchphrases and praising appropriately can help us do that.