What is Character?
“Good character is the inward values that determine outward actions” (Character First).
Here is a list of 49 character traits from Character First that need to be taught to children and why – and which we parents need to be able to demonstrate, model, and teach:
Attentiveness, Obedience, Truthfulness, Gratefulness, Generosity, Orderliness, Forgiveness, Sincerity, Virtue, Responsibility, Patience, Initiative, Self-Control, Punctuality, Resourcefulness, Tolerance, Creativity, Discretion, Diligence, Loyalty, Hospitality, Sensitivity, Enthusiasm, Flexibility, Discernment, Cautiousness, Boldness, Dependability, Thoroughness, Determination, Thriftiness, Availability, Deference, Compassion, Persuasiveness, and Wisdom.
One of the thing teens hate most is hypocrisy. Parents often have high expectations of their children and teens, but do we ourselves model, for example, Diligence (definition: Investing all my energy to complete the tasks assigned to me”)? Joyfulness (definition: Maintaining a good attitude, even when faced with unpleasant conditions)? Punctuality (definition: Showing esteem for others by doing the right thing at the right time)? Orderliness (definition: Arranging myself and my surroundings to achieve greater efficiency)? Our character as parents can re-enforce or undermine our teaching efforts. It’s not complicated to learn or practice, it’s actually simple when we take just one character trait at a time (not easy necessarily, mind you, but simple; not complicated) – and the result is so very wonderful for us, for our children, and for everyone else we and they come in contact with. It’s not always easy – in fact, it’s often really hard at first to form new habits in ourselves and in our children – but it’s invaluable. Building actual character comes through practice and life experience.
19 Character Traits FREE
for the accompanying activities, worksheets, coloring pages, and videos (free) click here
Attentiveness is “concentrating on the person or task before me.” Not only does this help you learn, but it shows how much you value the person or project in front of you.
Attentiveness isn’t always easy, especially in today’s multi-media and fast-paced world. Sometimes you have to silence your phone, turn off the television, or face away from other distractions in order to give someone the respect and attention they deserve.
- Look at people when they speak.
- Ask questions if I don’t understand.
- Sit or stand up straight.
- Not draw attention to myself.
- Not be distracted by others.
- Have you ever felt ignored? How did it make you feel?
- Have you ever forgotten the answers to a test? What happened?
- What is the opposite of attentiveness? Can you show me?
- How do you think attentiveness can help you in school? At home?
Availability is “being ready and willing to help.” This means putting others’ needs ahead of your own and lending a helping hand when you can. This might include carrying books for a teacher, unloading groceries for your mom, opening the door for someone else, cleaning up after a meal, or reading to a younger brother or sister.
Availability is similar to team sports. When individuals combine their efforts toward a common goal, they can achieve what they could not do alone. With team spirit and cooperation, victory waits just around the corner!
- Put others ahead of myself.
- Find a way to help, not a way to hide.
- Be ready when I am called.
- Be glad for the chance to serve.
- Get permission before I make commitments.
- What happens on a team when everyone works together? What happens when they do not cooperate with one another?
- Why should you care about others and not just yourself?
- Can you think of a person (real or make-believe) who got involved instead of avoiding the problem? How did this person “save the day”?
- Why should you get permission before agreeing to do something out of the ordinary?
Compassion is “helping those who are hurting.”
Compassion begins with sympathy, which is seeing someone’s pain. It is noticing a student who skins his knee or a friend who hurts her arm. It is being alert to a weary co-worker or a stranger who needs assistance.
Compassion also includes empathy, which is feeling someone’s pain. Once you notice an injury, empathy means you imagine how much it hurts. This creates a feeling of duty, responsibility, and sometimes urgency to help find a remedy.
This brings us to the full meaning of compassion, which is doing something to relieve someone’s pain. It is not enough to see needs and feel badly for those who are hurting. Compassion means getting involved, investing in others, and finding ways to “bear someone’s burden” in order for healing to occur.
- Notice when others are hurting.
- Stop to help.
- Take time to listen.
- Do what I can.
- Be kind, regardless of differences.
- When have you been sick or injured? How did others help you?
- What does it mean to be a “good neighbor” when you see someone in need?
- How can you show compassion to someone who is being picked on, teased, bullied, or harrassed by other students?
- Sometimes compassion means showing “tough love.” What do you think this means? Can you think of an example?
Courage is “overcoming fear so I can do what is right.”
Courage begins by knowing what is good, true, and right. This gives you confidence that you are heading in the right direction.
Another way to build courage is to think through what you should do in specific situations. For example, what should you do if you wake up and hear a smoke alarm in your home? What should you do if a stranger asks you to get into his car? What should you do if you see someone being teased or bullied?
Thinking ahead will help you overcome fear and make better choices when you face strange, difficult, or frightening situations. When you know something is good and true, stand up with courage instead of hiding in fear. You never know how your boldness and bravery will inspire others to stand up for what is true, right, and just.
- Know the truth.
- Get help when I am afraid.
- Do what is right.
- Be willing to stand alone.
- Help those who are bullied or abused.
- Why is courage important?
- Who can you talk to when you feel afraid?
- Share an example of someone who showed courage in a story of movie.
- Imagine your friends are picking on someone new at school. What could you say or do?
Determination is “overcoming obstacles in order to reach my goal.”
Determination is like climbing a mountain. You have to know what you want to achieve, then put one foot in front of the other until you reach the top.
You can “win” at school by concentrating in class, finishing your assignments, and doing your best in every subject. You can “win” at home by helping your family, doing your chores, and making good choices. It takes determination to win—but you can do it!
- Set the right goals.
- Get moving.
- Face challenges.
- Not be discouraged by failure.
- Keep trying.
- How do you feel after you accomplish something difficult or win a close game?
- Why is it important to finish what you start?
- What should you do if you discover you are heading in the wrong direction?
- What is the opposite of determination? (Quitting, working halfheartedly, giving up, or being lazy.)
Diligence is “focusing my effort on the work at hand.”
Diligence is like an investment, which means that what you put into something determines what you will get out of it. A diligent person works hard because anything worth doing is worth doing right, and the way you do your work is a reflection of who you are.
The opposite of diligence is laziness. Lazy students daydream in class, forget their homework, and care little about school. These habits lead to a poor education and a difficult future.
Be diligent, not lazy. Your future depends on it!!
- Concentrate on my work.
- Follow instructions.
- Do a job right.
- Finish my projects.
- Not be lazy.
- What are some benefits of working hard?
- Why should you do your best, even if no one else is watching?
- How can you be diligent, even if you don’t enjoy your work?
- Do you have projects you need to finish? What will it take to finish them?
Enthusiasm is “putting my whole heart into what I do.” Whatever the task, no matter how big or small, it will always turn out better if you put your whole heart into it!
Another great thing about enthusiasm is—it’s contagious! Your “spark” of energy and excitement can ignite others to live their lives with enthusiasm.
- Be an “energy-giver.”
- Encourage others.
- Treat every job as important.
- Not be discouraged by failure.
- What does it mean to “have a good attitude” at school? What does a “good attitude” look like at home?
- How can you have a positive attitude when doing something you don’t like to do? Can you give an example?
- Why is it important to do your best in “little” things?
- The opposite of enthusiasm is apathy, which means not caring about what happens or how things turn out. What do you think will happen to a student who doesn’t care about his or her work?
Flexibility is “adjusting to change with a good attitude.”
A palm tree survives heavy storms because it bends with the wind instead of breaking under pressure. Similarly, you can show flexibility by adjusting to change the best you can and making the most of each situation.
Even when you can’t control your circumstances, you can control how you respond. For example, what do you do when you plan to hang out with friends, but your mom needs you to go with her to the store instead? Or you expect to do something special for your birthday, but you are sick and have to stay in bed? Instead of complaining and feeling sorry for yourself, flexibility means looking on the bright side and rearranging your plans.
Flexibility does not mean you should go along with everything or everybody. If someone pressures you to do something wrong, tell them, “No I can’t do that,” and walk away. Like a tree firmly rooted in the ground, always hold on to what is true and right.
- Anticipate change.
- Adjust when needed.
- Look for the benefits.
- Finish the job.
- Do what is right.
- How can change be a positive thing?
- In what ways should you NOT change?
- Imagine you are planning to spend the afternoon with friends, but your parents need you to do something else. How should you respond?
Forgiveness is “letting go of bitterness and revenge.”
Forgiveness is not a feeling, and it does not take away or excuse what others have done. Real forgiveness is recognizing the problem and all the pain and hurt that comes with it—and then choosing to let go of any bitterness, anger, and desire for revenge so you can move on with life.
If you don’t forgive or let go, your life starts to revolve around the other person and how you can get even. Resentment then leads you to act with the same selfishness the other person demonstrated, making the problem worse.
Forgiveness does not always remove the consequences of an offense. A student might forgive another student for an unkind remark, but the teacher might still send the offender to the principal’s office.
Forgiveness is not easy, and sometimes it is a long process to work through the situation, rebuild trust, and restore a relationship. Sometimes the relationship cannot be restored and things are never the same. Even then, the attitude of forgiveness clears your mind so you can work through the process and make the most of the future.
- Acknowledge the pain.
- Choose to forgive.
- Not seek revenge.
- Ask for forgiveness when I do wrong.
- Move on with life.
- Why is forgiveness better than bitterness and revenge?
- How does it feel when someone forgives you?
- What makes it hard to forgive?
- How does forgiveness show strength of character?
Gratefulness is “showing appreciation for what I have.” This means recognizing what others have done for you and showing your gratitude. This kind of positive and thankful attitude makes someone pleasant to be with—especially compared to an ungrateful person who takes things for granted. No matter what your circumstance, you can always find something to be grateful for—if you look for it!
Children can develop gratefulness by saying “thank you” for their food, clothing, shelter, and the many “extra” things they enjoy such as toys, books, a bicycle, games, music lessons, and the ability to live in a free country.
- Appreciate the people in my life.
- Say “please” and “thank you.”
- Enjoy what I have instead of complaining about what I don’t have.
- Take care of my belongings.
- Write thank you notes.
- What are some things your parents and teachers did for you this week? How can you show appreciation?
- What is the opposite of gratefulness? (Being selfish, unthankful, grumpy, presuming, negative, or taking others for granted.)
- Why is it more fun to be around a grateful person than a selfish person?
Honesty is “being truthful in what I say and do.” Honesty is more than just accurately reporting facts. It includes what you say, and it also includes what you don’t say! For example, if your mom asks, “Did you eat the cookies?” you could accurately say “no” if you just ate one cookie. But that would be deceitful.
Honesty also includes your actions. For example, to cheat on a test is to pretend you know the answers when you really don’t. Or to steal candy from a store is to act like you paid for it when you really didn’t. Honesty means saying and doing what is true, not false.
- Tell the truth.
- Play by the rules.
- Not exaggerate the facts.
- Admit when I am wrong.
- Not take things that don’t belong to me.
- How do you feel when someone lies to you?
- How can telling one lie lead to more lies? How can this cause problems?
- If someone lies or makes a mistake, what does that person need to do in order to make it right?
- When is it tempting to cheat or lie about something?
Loyalty is “showing my commitment through difficult times.”
Loyalty is like tape or glue that is really strong. It doesn’t come apart easily. When your friends or family go through difficult times, you can practice loyalty by encouraging them and finding ways to help. Difficult times could be when people are sick, when they have a lot of work to do, when they feel stressed, or when things go wrong.
Do not be a “fair-weather friend”—someone who is a friend when everything is going well, but leaves as soon as trouble comes. A “fair-weather friend” cannot be trusted.
Practice loyalty and you will be a better friend, a better family member, and a better student!
- Care about people.
- Keep my commitments.
- Encourage others in the right direction.
- Help those in need.
- Serve my community.
- When has someone helped you or your family through a difficult time?
- How can you be a loyal friend or family member?
- Why should you try to protect those who are weak or vulnerable?
- What is the opposite of loyalty?
Obedience is “doing my duty with a good attitude.”
Obedience is not just about rules, regulations, and punishment. It is really about cooperating with one another in order to have a safe and orderly school, home, and community. Think of the peace and freedom you enjoy when neighbors respect one another and obey the law—and the chaos that follows when there is no law and order. Obedience makes teamwork and cooperation possible by clarifying your duty and doing it to the best of your ability.
Obedience does not mean following orders blindly. For example, you should not steal or cheat, even if someone tells you to. Everyone should obey the law and do what is right, including the people in charge of you.
- Follow instructions quickly.
- Complete what I am expected to do.
- Have a cheerful attitude.
- Go the “extra mile.”
- Not obey a wrong command.
- Why is it important to follow the rules?
- How does obedience keep things running smoothly at school?
- Does obedience mean you should follow someone blindly?
- If you are told to do something wrong, who can you go to for help?
Orderliness is “keeping things clean and neat.”
Orderliness is not a natural tendency or event. Even the second law of thermodynamics states that without intervention, all things move toward greater entropy and disorder. You can see this every day as your desk, purse, book bag, bedroom, closet, and vehicle become less organized and more dirty without someone making an effort to keep them clean and neat.
The key to an orderly lifestyle is making it a habit—putting things away and keeping things clean one day at a time.
- Clean up after myself.
- Put things where they belong.
- Avoid clutter.
- Not litter.
- Do things in the right order.
- Why is it important to keep your schoolwork, assignments, and papers in order?
- Why should you clean up after yourself instead of expecting others to do it for you?
- Why is it a good idea to put your toys away instead of leaving them on the floor?
- These are related words and concepts you can discuss: organization, efficiency, productivity, method, cleanliness, and hygiene.
Patience is “waiting without getting upset.” Some things just take time—like growing up, traveling from one place to another, or learning something new. A patient person responds to these situations with a positive outlook and attitude. This includes trying new approaches and “pushing through” in order to overcome obstacles.
Patience is a necessary part of life. Instead of getting frustrated when you face a difficult situation, patience helps you respond the right way—without getting upset or losing your temper. This makes everyone’s life better at school, at home, while driving in the car, or when checking out at the grocery store.
- Wait my turn.
- Not complain when I don’t get my way.
- Accept what cannot be changed.
- Use my time wisely.
- Try and try again.
- What are some times you have to wait with patience? Can you name five specific examples from school or home?
- Think about the examples you just gave. What about these situations can you control? What is out of your control?
- What is the opposite of patience? (complaining, nagging, griping, fussing) What does this accomplish? How does complaining affect your attitude?
- How do you think patience can help you in life?
Respect is “treating others with honor and dignity.”
Everyone has worth and dignity as a human being, whether they are young or old, rich or poor, male or female, or any other difference. This is why you should treat others with honor, dignity, and courtesy instead of bullying, harassing, or manipulating in order to get what you want.
You show respect in many ways. For example, when someone is talking, you show respect by being attentive. When you receive a gift, you show respect by saying “thank you.” At work or at home, you show respect to those counting on you by being responsible, diligent, and thorough.
Self-respect means you recognize your own worth as a human being and avoid anything that will damage your mind, body, or integrity. This means you do your best no matter who is watching—because what you do reveals who you are.
Respect does not mean you have to like everyone, and others might not treat you as they should. But even when you disagree with others or have to part ways, you can still treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.
- Value others.
- Respect differences.
- Use good manners.
- Not bully or harass others.
- Treat people the way I want to be treated.
- How does it feel when someone shows disrespect?
- How can you respect other students? How can you respect your teachers?
- What are some good manners you can show at meal time, at the store, or at school?
- What would happen to bullying if everyone showed respect to one another?
Responsibility is “taking ownership of my thoughts, words, and actions.” This trait is essential for becoming a healthy, happy, and productive person…and it is the basis for a free and civil society where each person does what he or she is expected to do.
Responsibility begins with “little things” like taking care of your belongings, working with a good attitude, resolving conflicts peacefully, and owning up to mistakes. Taking responsibility in these “little things” prepares students for greater opportunities in the future!
- Know what’s expected.
- Keep my commitments.
- Do my best.
- Not make excuses.
- Correct my mistakes.
- It’s easy to take responsibility or ownership when things go well. Why is it hard to take responsibility when things don’t go well?
- What is the opposite of responsibility? (unreliability, blaming others, making excuses)
- Who do you trust more—someone who owns up to mistakes or someone who covers them up? Why?
- How do you think responsibility can help you in school? At home?
Self-Control is “doing what is right, even when I don’t feel like it.”
Imagine riding in a car that is out of control. It can be frightening and very dangerous! This is also true for people who are out of control. They can hurt themselves and other people.
Self-control is like having steering and brakes in the journey of life. It means saying “no” to some things in order to say “yes” to something better—something that can help you reach your goals!
- Think before I act.
- Control my temper.
- Respect others and their belongings.
- Sit still and be quiet.
- Build healthy habits.
- Why is it important to do what is right, even when you don’t feel like it?
- What are some healthy habits that can make you a stronger person?
- Athletes make a lot of sacrifices in order to reach their goals. Can you think of ways athletes show self-control or self-discipline?
- What could happen to someone who has very little self-control?
Wisdom is “applying truth to my daily decisions.” Being wise is different than being smart. A smart person knows a lot of facts, but a wise person is able to apply those facts to the situation at hand.
If you want to make wise decisions, you must realize that every decision is important. Just as it takes thousands of small bricks to construct a large building, your character is made up of thousands of small decisions.
You should also consider that every decision has a consequence. Sometimes consequences affect just one person, and sometimes they affect many. But sooner or later, you reap what you sow—for better or for worse.
Finally, remember that every decision has a lesson. Whether the outcome is good or bad, a wise person learns from past decisions and makes better ones in the future. Even the worst mistakes can become the best lessons for those who are willing to learn!
- Listen to my parents and teachers.
- Learn from mistakes.
- Choose my friends carefully.
- Consider the consequences.
- Ask, “What is the right thing to do?”
- Who are some wise people you know? What can you learn from them?
- Who are some friends that encourage you in the right direction?
- What do you think the saying means, “You reap what you sow”?
- What do you think happens if you don’t learn from your mistakes?