We’ve all observed that parent; the one who appears to think their only purpose as a parent is to keep their child alive. This is the same person who thinks their spouse is a great catch because they don’t cheat on them or beat them and that they have a good job because they haven’t committed suicide by 5:00pm on Friday. I want more out of this gig and I want more for my children. I feel like my duty as a parent is to raise my boys into men of integrity, who live as leaders, and strive to be more like God each day. It’s a heavy undertaking to raise people of character in today’s society, but we, as good people, have an obligation to raise more good people.
So, how do we do this and when does it start?
Yup, character development can start as early as infancy…neonates even.
- First, protect your child’s eyes and ears.
Studies show that infants repeat what they’ve seen and heard in their minds for up to 24 hours. It becomes part of their implicit memory, meaning it’s not a concious understanding; however, it still becomes a part of them. So, you may not think your newborn is paying attention or can understand what’s happening when you’re watching The Walking Dead during that late night feeding, but that violence and terror is getting engrained in their mind. Is there someone in your family that thinks it’s funny to make fun of your new baby’s big ears or crooked grin? This is being repeated in their mind over and over again. Think on that a while.
I do my best to be sure I’m surrounding my babies with positive talk, positive facial expressions, positive touch, and positive movement. Even at 4:30 am when they want to be up for the day, I greet them with a warm smile and tell them they’re loved.
2. Watch for character traits and comment on them
Your child’s developing their personality more and more each day and their character and self-esteem are also developing at a rapid rate. They’re not just drooling, poooping, sleepy blobs. They’re observant, purposeful humans, seeking interaction and feedback.
When one of my boys wails loudly and it startles the other I notice he brings his hands together and takes deep breaths. I let him know I notice his strong coping skills and patience with others. Sometimes his bottom lip quivers because he feels his brother’s emotion and I comment on his empathy.
When they started rolling over and one day they could do it easily, but the next day they struggled, I acknowledged the effort and the ambition. “Today seems harder than yesterday, but I notice you’re not giving up. You have a goal and you’re working hard to achieve it”.
If we’re at the store and they start fussing in the checkout, I thank them happily for praticing patience with others and being understanding that I have other things to take care of at the moment, but I tell them they’re loved and I’ll hold them when I’m able.
3. Read to them & discuss the stories
I skipped right over those lame baby books of shapes and colors and went straight to books with story lines. I read these books to my boys and discuss what’s being learned. I talk to them about Harold being a problem solver with his purple crayon, Jack’s disobedience of his mother when he sold the cow for beans, and we discuss Red Riding Hood’s naivety. This isn’t just to develop comprehension skills and vocabulary (which it does), but stories and fables are a great way to develop strong character.
4. Model for them
A wise parent knows that children learn more from what they see others do than what they are told to do so model for them how to behave. I once had a violent student in my kindergarten classroom and I asked the mother about home life so I could get a better understanding of the child’s needs. She said, “He’s never been exposed to any anger or violence at all. Not since his dad left. His dad used to throw tantrums and break everything around him, but that was all before he was two years old”. Too late! The child may have had some hereditary predisposition to violence; however, much of what he was doing could also have been learned behavior in his implicit memory from observing his dad as an infant. It’s important to be aware of how you interact with others in front of your new baby. Think about your mannerisms, your tone of voice…your actions will become their actions sooner or later.
Babies are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. It used to be believed that infants couldn’t feel pain, but now that seems ludacris, right? Many people mistakenly think that what we say and do around babies, and to babies, doesn’t have an impact on them because they “don’t remember”, but current research says the opposite. They do remember! Everything becomes a part of them. Take advantage of these early years, this crucial period of development, where our children are sponges, and start gearing them towards a positive mindset and raising people of character.