What Defines Your Character?

You may have heard the phrase, “Character is how you act when no one is looking.”

While there’s a lot of truth to that phrase, it is also true that true character can be shown in your every day actions, particularly those that test your patience.

For example, how do you act when you’ve been standing in line at the DMV and get to the desk only to find out that they forgot to tell you that you needed one more document to process your registration? What about when you’ve been on hold for customer service for ages and the representative is unable to solve your problem?

Those moments show your character too. Do we all lose our cool every now and then? Yes. However, as we learn to develop good character, we become more able to handle those moments with compassion.  As Dale Carnegie is quoted as saying, “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain, but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

Instead of focusing on acting like you should when no one is looking, look at how you conduct yourself at all times.

After all, “Conduct is the best proof of character.”

5 Life Lessons from a Pumpkin

Pumpkins are a staple of fall. We go to the pumpkin patch and scour of the field full of pumpkins, searching for the perfect one. We use them to make pies, cakes, breads, pasta, and virtually any food imaginable. We carve them, put a candle inside, and set them on our doorsteps.  We spend a season obsessed with pumpkins, and then they’re gone on to something.

My youngest took the requisite preschool field trip to a pumpkin patch this week and came home with the cutest little pumpkin.
“There were bigger pumpkins,” his teacher said, “But he just really wanted that one.”

He showed me his little pumpkin, pointing out how the size was just perfect for his little fingers, and how he liked the stripes of green near the stem. To him, it was the perfect pumpkin.’

His observations on pumpkins caused me to think about character and the lessons we can learn from these orange staples of fall.

Your size and shape don’t matter.

When adults go to the pumpkin patch, they’re often looking for the large, perfectly round pumpkins – the ones that will be easiest to carve or fit best in the perfect fall display. When kids go to the pumpkin patch, they tend toward the more unique pumpkins.

“This one won’t stand on its own, but I love it!”

“Ooh… this one is all green. Let’s get it!”

To them, the unusual sizes, shapes, and colors are the ones that stand out the most.

In life, we often get hung up on what we should look like, but there’s always going to be someone out there who doesn’t care about the size and shape, someone who wants to be friends with the one who stands out from the crowd. If you’re the perfect size and shape, more power to you, but if you’re not, there are people looking for you too.

Sometimes we need to remove the muck from inside.

What’s one of the first things you do when you cut open a pumpkin? You take out all of gooey seeds and pulp from the inside. We all have gooey seeds and pulp inside of us too. We have negative thoughts, bad habits, and other things we need to remove before we can be molded, shaped, or carved into the people we want to be.

People may only like you for a season

Pumpkins are a staple of fall. September through November, people go pumpkin crazy, but by December they’ve moved on to Christmas trees and poinsettias. For the rest of the year, people barely think about pumpkins until they see fall displays starting to pop up in stores, but when September rolls around, pumpkins are back in the spotlight.

Life is kind of like that too. You’re not going to be in the spotlight all of the time. There will be seasons where people will listen to what you have to say and you’ll feel like you’re someone who really matters. There will be other seasons where you feel like you can’t do anything to get their attention and like what you say doesn’t have value. Take it all in stride. During the off seasons, work on developing a message of value so you really stand out when they’re ready to listen.

You can be anything you want to be

Pumpkin carving has become an incredible art. While lots of people stick with the basic pumpkin face, others are turning pumpkins into virtually everything imaginable. Like a pumpkin, what you can become isn’t limited to a few basic shapes. You can be anything you want to be – sometimes you just have to think outside of the box to figure out how to make it happen.

You may look great on the outside, but it is what is on the inside that makes you shine

No matter what you want to be, remember that what is inside is what counts. Carved pumpkins can look really cool, but they look even cooler at night when a candle is inside magnifying their design. Being a person of character – being kind, compassionate, honest, a good citizen, resilient, etc. – that is what is going to make you shine.

Teaching Kids to Think Beyond Themselves

The other day, I took my children to Chick-fil-A. While my youngest child was in the play area, my oldest child ate his strawberries. Naturally, when the three-year-old came out of the play area, a meltdown ensued. When questioned why he ate the strawberries, the six-year-old responded, “I ate all mine and I wanted more.”  He didn’t stop to consider who the strawberries belonged to or how his younger brother would feel when he discovered that his strawberries were missing. Instead, he was only thinking of himself.

At first glance, the lesson he needed to learn was, “Don’t take things that don’t belong to you,” but his response showed me that there was a deeper lesson to learn – considering the feelings of others.

It’s a tough world. Even from a young age, kids are encouraged to stand up for themselves, to be the best, and to work hard to get what they want. Within that conversation, we also need to take time to teach kids to not think only of themselves, but to think of others. This goes beyond the random acts of kindness and donations of charity that regularly make the news. It involves thinking about how our every day words and actions affect those around us.

So where do we begin? Here are a few articles that I think do a good job of helping parents and teachers encourage children to think beyond themselves and start thinking about others:

All of our resources at Building Kids Character have components of empathy, caring, and compassion built in to them, but parents and teachers should take time to regularly emphasize these traits in children and take advantage of teachable moments, such as my own strawberry-stealing moment at Chick-fil-A.

Lessons to Learn from Maya Angelou

“I speak to the black experience, but I am always talking about the human condition —
about what we can endure, dream, fail at, and still survive.”

— Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou stands out a strong, resilient woman. Her works reveal her struggles, her resilience, and her ability to find hope in some of the most desolate of circumstances. We highlight Maya Angelou in our Profiles of Resilience series because her works are full of wisdom and her life serves as a great example to help kids and teens learn how to become more resilient.

Lessons from “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros

As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, I’d like to take a moment and reflect on one of my favorite stories by a Hispanic author. “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros is one of those stories that every person should read at some point in his or her life. It’s a simple story that so accurately captures a complex series of emotions – turning older, discovering that life in not always unfair, holding in your emotions.

As you read through this story, you learn a few key lessons:

  1. As you grow older, you gain wisdom, yet you’ll never be quite old enough to have all the wisdom you need.
  2. Sometimes others will not listen to you, no matter how much you try to explain.
  3. Often, all it takes to ruin your day is having to put on an ugly red sweater that doesn’t even belong to you.
  4. However, it’s often not the sweater that is really the problem.

All it takes to ruin Rachel’s birthday is an ugly red sweater, an ugly red sweater, but is the sweater really the problem?

Rachel is eleven, but she doesn’t feel eleven. She still wants to cry like she’s three and sit on her mother’s lap when she’s scared like she’s five. Having a birthday isn’t a magical transformation into an older, wiser being.

Rachel is eleven, but she’s still not confident enough to stand up for herself when her teacher puts that sweater on her desk and, later, makes her put the sweater on. And she’s not able to stand up for herself when Phyllis Lopez finally claims the sweater and her smug teacher refuses to apologize.

This is a good character lesson for kids. We’re quick to praise the outspoken, confident children for standing up for themselves, but we fail to recognize that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some kids will have it down when they’re five, some when they’re eleven, and some won’t get pick it up until they’re one-hundred and two.

We need to take time to teach kids that every event doesn’t have a happy ending, every situation doesn’t go exactly as we hope it will, and that sometimes life is hard. We’re going to have some red sweater days, but the good news comes in knowing that not all days will be red sweater days.

Consequences of Bullying

Often kids underestimate the consequences of bullying.

“Oh, it’ll just make her feel bad for a minute.”
“He’ll know we’re just joking.”
“Oh look at the little baby cry for a minute.”

In reality, the consequences of bullying can be deep and long-lasting. Teachers and others who talk to kids about bullying shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences of bullying. The extremes aren’t pretty, but kids need to know the extent of what could happen before they decide to engage in some harmlessbullying.

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