Last night the dinner conversation swayed to fishing, one of my oldest son’s current passions. He just loves watching the Monster Fish show and gobbles up field guides on fish types, lures and best places in the world to fish. He loves it so much, that when we asked him where he would go for vacation if he could go anywhere in the world, he said he’d go to Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota to fish for Muskie.  I was thinking, “We live in Chicagoland – that’s not exactly another part of the world”.  The conversation continued and shifted from Muskie to the Bluefin Tuna, which his Dad had told him about. Apparently, it’s very rare and hard to catch. He said he’d love to catch one, but even if someone offered him a million dollars for it, he wouldn’t take it. He’d let the Bluefin Tuna go. When I asked him why he said,

“I want the tuna to be able to live, to grow bigger and for others to have the same exciting experience of catching the fish.”

In today’s self-centered world, of which he is definitely not immune, it was nice to hear this come from him and made me proud.

At what age do kids build character?

He’s eleven and we’ve been actively engaging him in character discussions and volunteering for the past few years. I’ve had people ask me what age is best for getting kids involved.

Many studies suggest that a child’s personality and character is developed by the first grade and that you can predict adult behavior by their behavior as a child. Wow, that’s early. Given this, the earlier children are taught positive character traits, provided with positive role models and given the opportunities to reinforce their learning, the more likely it’ll become a part of the rest of their lives.

There are many ways for children to learn character skills from a young age. One way is through example. It can be as small as helping someone who falls, asking how others are doing, really listening and understanding how someone else may feel, and talking about these things with your kids.  If you have time to volunteer yourself you can let your children tag along and create small ways they can help in your volunteering.  Lastly, you can discuss ways to help others in the community.

Volunteerism and community involvement are great ways to teach character. Yet, community engagement activities such as volunteering are hard to find for those under the age of thirteen. Hmm, what’s a parent to do?

So, what opportunities are there for young children?

A few good volunteer activities for young children include: scheduling a time to volunteer at Feed My Starving Children, creating cards for Phil’s Friends or hosting a snack drive for your school. Tack on some great conversation around why you’re doing these activities, how it makes people feel, and you’ll be helping your kids develop character.

For your child’s next birthday party, consider a “Give Back Gift” instead of birthday gifts. This is a fabulous way to tie in giving and community to the birthday celebration.  It’s also a great conversation starter around “needs” versus “wants.”

Additionally, if you live in DuPage County, Illinois you can sign your child up to participate in the I Support Community Inside Out Club program which meets as an after school club and also hosts weekend events.

What’s the benefit of getting your young child involved?

The benefits of “getting involved” are tremendous: everything from making new friends and increasing perspective to significant mental and physical health benefits. Aren’t these things you want for your young child, your family and yourself?

Do you have suggestions for teaching character to young children through giving back?

Please share your comments here.