A child needs:
- habits of sound judgement
- guided by a confident and accurate understanding of what is right and wrong, what enriches a human
- being and what degrades a human being
- a deep sense of responsibility to others and well-tried habits of generosity if he or she is to be capable
- of forming and maintaining permanent relationships
- self-possession and habitual self-control, conferring a relative freedom from internal weaknesses and
- bad habits, resilience and habitual toughness in the face of difficulties or difficult people
- gumption and courage to resist external pressures from the media or peer group
- an understanding of how to raise his or her own children effectively.
Get the behaviours and the underlying motivations right
It’s not difficult to make children happy – just take them to McDonalds, or put them on PlayStation. That will make them happy – now. But that is not the end point of parenting. It is much more important to equip the young people in our care to find happiness as adults.
There are two simple ingredients in this process of equipping children for adult life. They are universal principles. The great writings of the East, classical literature, the great books of the religions, all emphasise these perennial co-constituents of good parenting:
- Children need a clear understanding of what is right, founded on clear reasoning and deep respect for others – values, or conscience, if you prefer that word founded on clear reasoning and deep respect for others – values, or conscience, if you prefer that word.
These values, in turn, are the foundation for well-grooved habits of responsible behaviour.
On these co-principles parents have successfully raised children since Adam and Eve got it right with Abel. The happiness of children, and let's not forget it - of parents themselves has hinged through every culture and age on having strong habits driven by loving motivation. Habits need good values. Habits alone are insufficient. Stalin and Genghis Khan had well-developed habits of action, but little conscience … the results were horrific.
Nor are good intentions enough. Think of the times you have hit the snooze button, fibbed to get out of a fix, left the sink untidy, eaten too much. Our values gnawingly remind us what was best for us; when we fail in behaviour, we lose our peace of soul, and our happiness. Don’t confuse values with good habits. They are not the same. Character education will not be achieved through sugary bedtime stories or by videos of rainforests. In your own family, a parental focus on building good habits will equip your son or daughter not only with wisdom and peace in their hearts but the capacity to act as they really wish to. Your aim as a parent is to consolidate in your child these life-skills – virtues, to use a word that now labours under excess baggage – in the deepest sense.
Extract from Andrew Mullins Parenting for Character (Finch Publishing, 2005)