The “Kindness” Book

By Ed DeRoche

“Kindness” is one of the topics to be presented at the Character Matters Conference at the end of this month.

Last month, I received a copy of Thomas Lickona’s new book, How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain (Penguin, 2018).

I’ve read it—twice. The book advises parents, teachers, and caregivers on everything they need to know about “kindness,” and about ten essential virtues that function as a “supporting cast” for kindness – wisdom, justice, fortitude, self-control, love, positive attitude, hard work, integrity, gratitude, and humility.

Lickona notes that his long career has focused on character education and teacher training. A long-time proponent of character education, one of his earliest books, Character Matters–Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility (Bantam, 1991), was a major resource when Professor Mary Williams and I started writing and speaking about the topic, and when creating the Center here at USD.

I want to focus this blog on what I see as the framework that Lickona uses to develop the “important principles and practices” that can guide parents, teachers, and caregivers in helping children and youth on the road to good character; that is, character, character education, and character coaches.

He suggests that there are two types of character—moral character and performance character. Moral character “inspires us to be good and performance character enable us to do good well.” He reminds us that the good side of one’s character consists of our virtues, our good habits, and that the bad side of character involves our bad habits. He notes that “in a very real sense, we become our habits. Our responsibility as parents and teachers is to help kids develop good habits…Character, good or bad, is composed of learned habits and behavior

The way I see it is that:
• The word CHARACTER has two Cs in it; one stands for CHOICES and the other for CONSEQUENCES.

• Living a life of good character doesn’t happen by CHANCE, nor does it happen by CIRCUMSTANCES. It happens by CHOICE.• CHOICE is influenced, most times by CIRCUMSTANCES and CULTURE.

Given today’s situations, we should underline Lickona’s observation that:

“Human behavior has always been influenced by the interaction of character and culture. Think of character as what’s on the inside—the capacities and dispositions that influence how we act and react. Culture is what’s on the outside—all of the factors in our environment…and then in any given situation, the outside influences bring out either the best or the worst of our character.”

“We know,” he says, “that good character involves knowing what’s right, and doing what’s right—and that doing is the hardest part. We become good by doing good.”

In regards to character education, Lickona writes schools that have effective character education initiatives ensure that students have voice (an opportunity to shape the culture of their school) and are engaged in “high quality” cooperative learning. Character education “trains the heart as well as the mind.” It helps children “not just to know that something is wrong, but to feel that it is wrong.”

From the perspective of character education, Lickona writes, every moment of the school day is a “character moment.” “To a large degree, our children create their character by the choices they make every day.”

Not in the book, but something that educators and the parents should know: Researchers at UC-Berkeley surveyed 400 students ages 12-14 in which they found that students “who were more likely to be grateful to others [I am adding “kindness” here] showed higher academic interest, grades, and extracurricular involvement, and had lower interest in risky behaviors.” Positive parent relationships was also associated with gratitude (and probably with many habits of the heart including “kindness”).

Lickona urges parents, teachers, and caregivers to become what he calls character coaches.

• Being a character coach means “teaching children character skills like self-control and kindness in very deliberate ways and then helping kids practice them again and again….”

• Becoming a character coach “means giving your child/children opportunities for moral action in family life (and I would say in schools as well) and…the toughest part…is doing so in the heat of the moment….

• Character coaches know that the “family is a child’s first school of virtue and that the qualities that make up good character…grow in a family culture.”

• “Character coaches do all they can to help children and to stay on the road to good character.”

Research, Lickona tells us, finds that children’s character development is best supported by “a stable and loving family environment where they teach respect for legitimate authority, where children are held accountable for their actions and behaviors [and] where children have meaningful responsibilities in family life.”

The book is filled with advice, examples, stories, research, and resources for home (parents/caregivers) and school (teachers/administrators). Here are a few – by the numbers:

  • 3 Ways that family meetings foster character development
  • 6 Principles that can guide our efforts to raise kind children
  • 15 Character-based tools and strategies for your discipline toolbox
  • 10 Tips for holding good family meetings (and I might add for good classroom meetings)
  • 7 Guidelines for children’s TV watching
  • 4 Steps to making good decisions
  • 10 Ways to teach and practice gratitude
  • 20 Questions using the “True-Love Character Test”

“Every child deserves a home and school where children and youth are learning to be smart and good.”

My advice as a parent and teacher: Buy the book! Read it! Use it! Share it!

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