Giving children an advantage is not for the purpose of holding others down. It is a competitive world we live in and giving your child an edge while teaching them empathy along side of it only sets them up for success. With this success they can then be leaders and help others along the same path.
The best ingredients to add to your child’s character development is fuel for success. It is important to teach them to respect others, but without the admirable traits of self respect and the ability to succeed they will stay focused only on themselves trying to find it on their own. If they are taught to overcome adversity, they can then turn and lead others.
We don’t want our children to grow to take advantage of others, but we absolutely do want them to grasp advantages wherever they find them. It is success through many failures that breeds empathy for those that struggle. Many of the traits here are a bit unconventional to any who see ‘nice’ for its own sake as a desirable character trait.
Table of Contents
Trait #1: Assertive Personality – Just Say It
Assertiveness has been given a bad reputation by some in the field of education. The biggest problem is that it is key to promoting healthy growth of emotional and interpersonal competence. This was concluded by Susan G. Foreman in her book Coping skills interventions for children and adolescents.
This work was designed to give school psychologists, social workers, and teachers the tools necessary to help children cope with stresses inside and outside of the classroom. An abstract by the American Psychological Association can be found here. If you are interested, you can get the book on Amazon here. This is scientifically established and so important for your child.
Everyone has heard the ‘squeaky wheel’ analogy.
- Assertiveness goes beyond simply complaining loud enough to get attention.
- It presupposes other good character traits backing it up so it doesn’t devolve into simple whining.
Teach your kid to say what they are feeling, thinking, or the questions they might have. Speaking up, taking on the concerns of others, and presenting issues on behalf of their group all follow in the patterns of assertive behavior. What being assertive should not entail is running over those who are not willing or able to stand up and be heard.
What you should teach your kids by word and example is to join with those who feel left out or without a voice as well as push for their own needs. By doing this, they will be able to seize opportunities when they arise and lead in a way that creates fans rather than opponents.
Trait #2: Willingness To Sacrifice – Pain For Gain
Hedonism is a real problem, in the U.S. culture especially. I am not talking about the late Hugh Hefner’s extreme version, though that certainly is a problem, but more along the lines of consequentialism. This refers to things being true or good because of the outcome they cause rather than what they are in essence. We have all heard of the ‘ends justifying the means’ error.
One of the big problems of this way of thinking is found in the way in which people use it to define happiness. Happiness, many will state, is the sum of all the choices people make for things they consider to be good. Early on though, philosophers found that many will choose things that cause suffering in the short term, in order to get some higher good.
Whether we call it sacrifice, or poetry, or adventure, it is always the same voice that calls.Aristotle
So those following in this way of thinking just redefined it to include ‘good’ things instead of just the most pleasure and least pain (which is the ground zero of hedonism). That is where must teach our kids about this error and set them on the right path. Happiness doesn’t equal pleasure.
Pleasure can simply be getting a desire, which many times is completely opposite of what we NEED. Sometimes we term this delayed gratification. You have to make sure you understand and apply this yourself and then pass it on to your children. Suffering is not bad if it is undertaken for a greater good.
Trait #3: Fortitude – A Lost Art
For those that know what fortitude means in general, but aren’t quite sure what you would say if called to spell it out, here is what dictionary.com has to say about it. It is “mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously“.
It is a lost art because in our present culture we have been co-opted by a Hegelian philosophy that asserts truth as being a middle ground between two sides. This throws out the use of facts to decide where truth sits and replaces it with arbitrary compromise based on mere opinion. Why is this important?
When we teach kids about fortitude it means being unbending on principles that are simply true. It means not giving in because it may make someone ‘feel’ bad. Feelings are definitely important in their place, but truth divides.
You either follow truth or deny it. It is outside of us. When we see it, it should change you. If it doesn’t, pride has set you above it, told you that you can define it, and that you can change it.
Fortitude allows a child to learn to stand and fight for those in need, no matter if others join them in the struggle or not. They have the mental toughness to be a shield for themselves and others. This is a tremendous super power that you can teach your child how to use.
In a study published in the Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, researchers found that psychological resilience is made possible through training in mental fortitude. What this means for you as a parent is this can be taught to your child and in turn they can gain psychological resilience themselves.
Trait #4: Integrity – You’ve Gotta Stand For Something
Giving your kids a strong sense of right and wrong is essential in their stable development. If they are led to believe that right and wrong are only situational, they will become frustrated. They can see that reality is not like that. Nuanced situations are a real thing, but wavering foundational principles are not.
There is a boy that I taught in a class that had his leg broken recently (No, I didn’t do it. He was at his home when it happened. Just saying.). He loved the Karate class and was really upset that he couldn’t attend.
When he came back to the class in a large, blue, heavy cast from foot to mid thigh, I wasn’t concerned about him as much as impressed with how much he did to simply participate. He was determined.
He had been given a little walker to use to get around. This was almost irresistible to the other children. One of them inevitably took it, just to try it out mind you, they were ‘gonna give it back’. Once I explained to them that he was in need of their help and he really had to have his walker, they rallied around him and even ‘army crawled’ with him around the room to show support.
If you give kids delineations of what is acceptable, you are giving them what they need. They want it to feel safe. They know what to expect and that you care. If you then encourage them to stick to what is right and find the true happiness that a life of good character brings, they will rally around it. They will even ‘army crawl’ through muddy trenches if that is what it takes.
Trait #5: Courage – All It Takes Is 10 Seconds
Courage is not something that you live with on a daily basis. It takes little to no courage for us to get in our cars and drive to where we intend to go. That seems simple now. But to a 15 year old learning to drive for the first time, that can be terrifying. Courage happens in spurts in our lives. Many times it is only needed in that 10 second decision point. Do or Run.
This same thing happens during Karate classes and tests. It is not constant, especially if a good instructor is keeping the environment safe and the class energetic and fun. These times are planned and put in the mix at specific stages. Large crowds of parent come to testings where there are all kinds of obstacles laid in the child’s way before they can get the coveted new belt.
Board breaking, tournaments, testing requirements, and even sparring for older children can be these decision points. You can see the relief in their faces when it is over. They conquered it, now on to the next thing.
You can serve up these opportunities to children in a variety of ways, some better and some worse. It is essential for your child that they get the chances to push themselves in this way. If they are never allowed to push themselves, they will not know where their limitations begin. They will live in fear of them.
Find situations that give them this gift. It seems like an odd gift to put children in stressful situations and expect them to fight through it. A gift it is none the less. You are allowing them in a safe and controlled manner to explore their bodies and minds to find their place. That is a tremendously reassuring feeling, knowing your place in the world.
Trait #6: Self Confidence – Heart Of A Servant
The best leaders were once among the best at taking orders and following. To follow someone else and go by their decisions requires self confidence, especially when the one following possesses the skill to be able to lead. The self confidence that allows someone to become a servant, now that is a grounded person.
Many misunderstand self confidence as the current fad term, self esteem. Self esteem is based on thinking highly of oneself, which may or may not be rooted in actual admirable traits. Self confidence doesn’t place the value on a ‘high’ view of the self, but instead centers on a ‘right’ view.
The difference comes from this idea of being a servant. In business, successful owners and CEO executives know that you are not in your position to be served, but to serve others with expertise and leadership.
The same is true in the martial arts. The instructor is not the center of the class, the student is. The master instructor is the prime servant of the students.
In a study published in the journal Personnel Psychology, researchers from the Carey School of Business at Arizona State University found that CEO leadership that embraced what they termed ‘servant leadership’ was an excellent predictor of firm performance.
In other words, those companies led by upper management that understood their roles as servants, and had the self confidence to pursue it as a rule increased their company’s performance nearly every time. This was evident when compared with leadership that did not implement this rubric.
Self confidence leads to grounded individuals, sure of their abilities, but secure enough to use them in a way that uplifts others and utilizes theirs as well. The self is taken out of the middle and the other is put in its place. That takes a very self assured individual indeed.
Trait #7: Vision – All Leaders Have It
Teaching a small child how to have vision may seem to be a bit of overkill, but not if you understand how simple it is. Kids need to see the effects and align them with their causes instead of only living reactionary. Once you can get them to understand that all effects have a cause and those causes are many times in their control, you have begun to raise a visionary.
An example comes from a gym class that I was invited to teach many years ago. This was a public school setting so my assistant instructor at the time came along and helped run many drills and games that were geared toward a gym style class. In the school they had a parachute and we used it to our advantage.
When the kids began to run around or not pay attention, we wouldn’t say anything. We would take up the parachute and begin packing up all of the other gear. Some of the kids would notice. You could see the lights going on in their minds.
They understood that if the games were to continue, they would have to convince these other monkeys running with their hands in the air to follow the rules. After only two or three times of this, we had no more hitches. Those that had vision, and understood the bigger picture became the enforcers and kept the others in line.
Vision is what inspires leaders and motivates their success. Without vision it is hard to know where to go and what to do next.
Trait #8: Inspiring Character – Follow Me!
The ability to motivate others even when the chips are down is a huge advantage. Children that are taught this at a young age have many years to hone the skill. By the time they are older, they will have mastered it and can use it when it counts.
It is no small thing to cause people to act in a desired manner when they may not have been inclined to do anything. Sure, many say they want this or that to change, but it is actually a rare thing to see people doing it.
This is where you can place your child with the proper skills later in life. Right in the middle of situations that can lead to great achievement and fulfillment is where they can easily find some of the ingredients to true happiness.
Help your child learn to lead by example and encourage others to do the same. This will help them to not come across as ‘preachy’ and make others that see them want to immolate their actions. With a little effort, you can create a little superstar.
Trait #9: Social – *Not Followed By the Word Media
Social is not a trait that is very understood today. It is thought of as popular, or having many people interested in what someone is doing. That is not a healthy understanding of social. It has more to do with interpersonal skills. The ability to relate.
Public speaking is a good laboratory for this.
- Many people have a fear of it
- They can’t seem to be themselves when it has to be done.
- It is a great indicator of the level of social skills one has.
It is also a great training ground for children. One thing that worked and still works for me is to find the person in the room with the least interest in what I am saying and try to win them over. The entire enterprise becomes about the challenge between that person and me. It allows the speaker, in this case me, to hone the ability to drown out the noise and connect with someone.
An easy way to help kids is to have them speak in front of others as often as possible, especially as they get older and more insecure. They learn that other people are judging them as they get older, so they have to learn to tune it out.
Trait #10: Optimism – Be a People Magnet
There is nothing more appealing than a happy person, smiling, and full of optimism. This is more towards hope in something concrete than an empty, ‘fake it till you make it’ type of idea. Belief is an integral part of our every day lives. Teaching kids to harness that power is key.
We expect things to happen the same way each time we attempt them. We also take the word of others on their successes. This can lead to a healthy optimism that is grounded in reality. Putting in the work with the proper expectation of the outcome is really foreign to many. I sometimes think I am surrounded by Pooh Bear’s stuffed donkey friend Eeyore at every turn.
If we know where we are going and are reasonably sure we are going to get there, no matter the pitfalls, others will want to follow. It is only natural.
To give you a little motivation, there was a study done by researchers at the university of Miami, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Kentucky that found that those possessing optimist traits persisted in higher education, earned higher incomes, and had more successful relationships through life.
Give your child a gift that can truly change their lives.
Trait #11: Passionate – Knowing That You Know
If optimism motivates others to your child’s cause, passion will keep them going in the midst of most storms. This is the fuel on the fire of an idea or course of action. It can make a goal possible with it or impossible without it.
Can this even be taught? Absolutely. It is a trait that can be learned. I call it ‘drinking the Kool aid’. You have to first believe in the path you are on and then passion for its outcome will arise. It is ‘uncool’ for teens and preteens to care about many things. This is the enemy of passion.
Caring about an issue is giving it a place of importance in your life. If you teach kids that some things deserve these places in our lives, you are beginning them on the path to find passions that inspire them and keep them going.
Trait #12: Diligent – Roll Up The Sleeves
A good work ethic has brought much of my respect for others. There is nothing more irritating than needing someone to come through for you and they leave you to fend for yourself. I have had many stick by me and many desert me. It is not hard to guess which I remember as having good character traits.
Sometimes we have to plan, inspire others, and research alternatives. But then inevitably comes the time when there’s nothing else for it. We have to just jump in and get waist deep. Instilling a sense of diligence in a child will serve them all their lives.
I don’t mean here a love for work that some might wrongly have. I am talking about a sense of responsibility to do what needs to be done, rejecting complaining as an option, and pushing to the end.
Benny ‘the Jet’ Urquidez (World Kickboxing Champion, 62-0 with 57 wins by knockouts) had a habit of saying as we would lose gas in training or fights, ‘Finish Strong!‘ Diligence. It is what pushes you on to finish strong.
Trait #13: Well-Rounded – The Samurai Way
The samurai did not strive to be the master of one thing. An expert in the sword was useless at a distance. The master of the bow could not contend with the skill of the average swordsmen due to the inordinate amount of time it takes to move from good to expert.
It is more important that children have a well rounded set of skills than to be allowed to only strive in one direction. When economies collapse, it is the well-rounded person that can change and adapt to the new environment and come out the other side. My grandmother taught me this with her stories of the Great Depression.
When people are considered experts at any one thing, they have not spent the time it takes to become good enough at many others. This leads to living life in a rut, using and reusing the same skill.
When this skill fails because of…
- physical ailments
- mental ailments
- environment changes
and the skill no longer is applicable, their entire sense of self crumbles.
The way of the samurai was to be of no mind. To be empty and to adapt without pushing back on their surroundings. They strove to bend and push only when resistance moved on. This necessitated a great diversity of skills and abilities. They were the models of a well-rounded person.
Trait #14: Modesty – The Best Role Model Ingredient
With all of this talk of taking lead and self confidence as admirable personality traits, you could have a fear of fostering a narcissistic world view in your child. Yet, properly understood, these skills fit directly in line with modesty and giving place to others.
True leadership and real success demands modesty. Mistakes are made by those blinded by their own reflection in every mirrored surface. It takes understanding the role of servant leadership to be able to live successfully and modestly at the same time.
We can foster this in children simply by helping them understand the role of defeat and failure in the process to greatness.
I love the example of Babe Ruth.
Many know him as the home run king of the 1920s. He hit his 60th home run in 1927.
Another little known fact was that he also held another record for a long time. He held the title of most strike outs.
He led the American League in strike outs five times.
Failure is a great teacher. It shows the path not to follow again. In embracing the process, we learn not to hold ourselves up with unrealistic platitudes. Modesty is the self regulating tool of those sincerely in search of truth.
Trait #15: Grateful – Best Defense Against Complacency
Last, but certainly not least is being grateful. This goes hand and hand with modesty as a character trait. Those that take people for granted and their opportunities in life as something they were owed are in for a good bit of misery in later years.
We all live with the regret that creeps up around us when we are trying to go to sleep some nights. All the times we weren’t modest or grateful usually led to things said or done that keep us awake. Teaching our kids that they are not owed even the next breath is vital. It allows us to move forward with a proper view of self and others.
Keeping this at the center of a child’s life gives them opportunity to include others in their story and acknowledge the help they give daily. We are social animals that rely on one another for good reason. Teaching total self reliance can lead to ungratefulness for the true contribution of others.
The Admirable Traits Takeaway…
Character is revealed through action.Aristotle
With these 15 traits you can raise a kid with options and adaptability. They will be ready for whatever their story has prepared for them. It just takes simple mindfulness of the teachable moments and keeping in mind that Little Ninja eyes are always on you. Lead by example and point the way.