Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (August 23, 2018)
This week, our foundation, the Character Education Foundation, has the privilege of hosting Professor Marvin Berkowitz in Hong Kong. He is truly an expert in character education; he is the inaugural Sanford N. McDonnell Endowed Professor of Character Education, and Co-Director of the Center for Character and Citizenship at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
He was speaking at a teacher training yesterday and although it was targeted at teachers, many things applied to parenting. Below are 5 things I learned:
1. Character education has to be holistic encompassing the head, heart and hands. Children have to understand the values in their heads – to know what they mean and why it’s important, to have the critical thinking to differentiate right from wrong. But more than that, they have to be emotionally engaged so that it’s not just something they do void of emotion. Children have to feel the importance of the values. But lastly, to act on them with the hands. It’s good to know the importance of being kind and feel the desire to be kind but it involves reaching out and doing something with kindness.
2. Skills need to be taught. We want our kids to know how to identify and manage their emotions, how to resolve conflicts, how to manage their own time and responsibilities etc and those are skills that can and need to be taught in order to help our children thrive.
3. Common language of core values. In the same way that a school should choose several core values to focus on (e.g. respect and responsibility), it can be the same in a family. And in addition to having a set of values to uphold, it has to be of a common language. The words and definitions should be consistent across family members and those who interact with the child. So for example, if respect is a core value, what does it mean in our household, how does it look in our home and how can all speak about it and uphold it?
4. Explain yourself. If we tell a child how we feel about him/her, whether it’s positive or negative, we have to also explain why we are feeling the way we do and how his/her actions made others feel. So for example, instead of just saying “I’m so proud of you”, you say “I’m so proud of you because you shared your favourite snack with your friend. How did it make your friend feel? Happy right? Because of what you did, you made your friend happy and I’m so proud of you for doing that”. Or if it’s negative: “I’m so disappointed in you for lying to your teacher about how you lost your homework when you actually didn’t do it. I think it makes your teacher disappointed in you too and maybe not trust what you say next time.” We can’t assume that children know why we feel the way we do so it’s important to explain it to them.
5. Private not public. When reprimanding children, do it private and not public. The message still gets across without the shame of having other people witnessing the reprimanding. So it could just mean pulling them aside and speaking to them quietly when kneeling next to them to tell them what they did wrongly. This is a show of our respect to our children and it still teaches them the same content but in a way that doesn’t shame them.
There is so much more I learnt from Prof Berkowitz and I will continue to share in the next installment of this column. One article to read by him is: http://www.character.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Understanding-Effective-Character-Education.pdf