A simple equation. We all want the next generation to be civic-minded, learn about democracy, and make good decisions that will affect the future of our country – and, our planet.  During election time, schools offer the “Kids Voting USA” curriculum  to help students in grade K – 12 become informed about the greatest liberty of all—the right to vote.  

Parents help in this area by engaging their children in dialogue and conversation that foster understanding about candidates, political parties and various issues on the ballots. This conversation also builds valuable critical thinking skills, encouraging kids to learn to make decisions based upon information and asking questions. This is what we all understand about this important topic of  CITIZENSHIP.  This trait is another strong pillar in our pursuit of CHARACTER EDUCATION elements taught in most schools throughout the country.

Other elements of good CITIZENSHIP include:  taking care of one’s community; obeying laws and rules; respecting authority; and, protecting the environment.  Parents help their children to understand these elements each and every day, from not littering on the street, to following traffic signs, to encouraging children to listen to their teachers and do what is expected each day at school. Many families practice environmental protection through recycling, water conservation and gardening. 

However, there is one last component of CITIZENSHIP that often gets left out of the equation: CITIZENSHIP + SERVICE = LEADERSHIP.  By offering service, students learn to become leaders. Leadership reinforces a strong sense of what it means to be a good citizen. 

I wrote an article, “Lemon Aid in the Shade,” for Raising Arizona Kids magazine that appeared in the September 2010 issue.  It was a story about two neighbors, elementary-aged children, who decided to raise money to help a local animal shelter. They picked lemons and made lemonade. With the help of their mothers, they baked chocolate chip cookies. This entire tasty combination soon went public! After building a stand out of cardboard boxes, they parked their newly-formed business near a local golf course. Needless to say, they earned a neat and tidy sum for the animal shelter. This is service learning in action and this is what builds leaders who have the potential to direct this great country in which we are privileged to live.

Have you or your children every been involved in a community or civic project that helped to teach service and leadership?  Do you think this is important? What suggestions do you have for other parents/grandparents/guardians to build civic pride and participation?



The power of the words we choose can radically alter our message and our effect upon others.  If the others are children, our words and message takes an even more sensitive turn. Why?  The answer lies in the  intuitive makeup and unaltered antennae of the children themselves. They haven’t developed filters that change or otherwise pollute the effects and impact of politically correct verbiage. They speak what they see and what is true to to them, not what sounds expedient, polite or benign. Our verbal expressoin to children needs to be delivered concretely as well as with awareness of our unspoken feelings that accompany the words.

A friend and teacher colleague recently sent me a U-Tube video at  that I hope you will watch  The video speaks to the value of our words, what they express and how they reflect our perspective. Interestingly, it is precisely that perspective that we deliver/portray that ultimately affects others – perhaps in ways that we might never have imagined.  At some level we all know this truth. Today, however, I offer the challenge to take action upon this truth. By simply having an awareness of how your words are perceived, you can make a difference. 

When we speak to children, we speak volumes by our attitudes and by the exactness of expression that we deliver. Do you think of this when you interact with your child(ren)?  How clearly we would speak if we only retained this childlike quality all the days of our lives!  However, that doesn’t happen.  We grow, we are exposed to life and learn from our experiences – including those that cause us regret, remorse and pain. All good. However, life experience does not only change our words, it changes the feelings behind the words.

Are you willing to consider how you deliver your words, your expressions? Can such an action make a difference even in this time-pressed and demanding world that consumes us daily?  Can we make a difference by our words? Have you done so – either with children or without? 


Under the “Character Education” tab on the website of the Arizona Department of Education we can find the following paraphrased statement:  In order to make the greatest impact on children today takes caring, consistant modeling of good character by adults and the presence of high expectations for all kids as well.

As we continue to reflect upon those character traits that lead us toward raising and teaching emotionally and mentally healthy children and responsible adults, we cannot leave out the trait of responsibility.  This can also be called the “I feel great” trait because when kids learn this at a young age, they become empowered. This empowerment is positive because it leads to self-confidence and a sense of capability which opens the door to endless possibilities for a young person’s future.

Some ways that we can teach young people to be responsible at even preschool ages include these suggestions from

  • Keep promises.  The story about how Peter cried “wolf” once too many times is a good example of what happens when we make promises that we either cannot or do not keep.
  • Don’t blame, or make excuses.  Take charge of what you do and your own life.
  • Don’t rely on others to do what you can do yourself.
  • Take care to not to talk about something that someone tells you in confidence. Let people know they can count on you.
  • Use your own good sense before making a decision. Think things through before taking action.           
  • Don’t put things off. When you have a job to do, get it done as soon as possible.

Its important to talk with kids that being responsible does not only mean doing chores, but has a much larger scope. When they learn about all of the ways they can develop this trait and how it will make them “feel great,” they will be much more likely to seek out opportunities to show you how good they are at it.

But remember, adults must work ourselves at being responsibile to catch kids making a responsibile choice and reinforcing it by letting them know how proud it makes you to see them take such positive actions.

Can you think of a time the special kiddo in your life did something very responsible?  Reinforce the actions of that young person.  Tell us about it.


Character education is not the latest fad, but (our) . . . oldest mission.”   

                        Kevin Ryan ~ Center for Ethics ~ Boston University

Last week we began our consideration of the Six Pillars of Character that will build values and help our kids know that we believe in them and that they truly can make a difference in the future.  Recently Education Week, a national weekly education periodical, published a study in an article entitled, “Youth’s Lack of Values, Character Worries American Public.”  The study revealed that the American public is anxious about what they see to be a crisis in the moral well-being of youth and teens. A full 61% of the adults surveyed said that young people are failing to learn respect, responsibility and honesty.  In fact, only 37% believed that that children of today will make the U.S. a better place.  What a desperate finding and even worse reality!

We CAN disprove this study and we can do so by teaching those values to our kids. With respect being such a strong pillar and one that provokes much concern in society today, we will  concentrate our thinking on the value of modeling this attribute today.  As adults, we must look for times to teach the character traits and values.  Here are some golden moments to consider.

  • Driving down the street – perhaps on the way to school – we see a chance to shoot ahead of another care or dash forward and beat out a pedestrian.   If this happens to you …stop and allow someone to go ahead and make a point to let your child know what you are doing.  Model, Model, Model!

  • Saying please and thank you – nice reminders.  Another study indicated that when someone responds to us with the words,  “thank you,” certain muscles in our jaw automatically relaxes.

  • Showing concern for those who have a disability that limits their physical, emotional or mental well-being.

At an annual Cub Scout event last weekend, my granddaughter ran off to a corner and began to cry, pointing her finger in the direction of a group of adults.  As I looked toward the front row of the event, I noticed a man with a wooden leg.  It was a warm day and he was wearing shorts, readily displaying the wooden connections and hinges that attached to the rest of his body.  Being four years old, my little granddaughter had never seen anyone with a wooden leg before and she was frightened.  (“He smiled at me and scared me,” she shouted between burying her head in my shoulder and sobbing.)

After comforting her and making her feel secure, I saw a perfect chance to explain how some people lose a leg or an arm because they fought in a war or became very sick.  Of course, she wanted to know if that would happen to her.  Assurances that she was safe and did not need to think about that possibility, the time was appropriate to develop respect for someone who was physically disabled. When she had more information, she stopped crying and became interested in the explanation.

Have you ever experienced an event or situation where you modeled the character trait of RESPECT to a child or a young person?


“A national ethics survey on American youth finds one in three high schoolers stealing from a store in the past year, two in five lying to save money, and eight out of ten lying to their parents (Josephson Center for Youth Ethics, 2010).”

Why do we read alarming statistics like this one? The report goes on to explain that this survey reflected a slightly higher moral code than an earlier one done in 2008, and that is the good news. But is “slightly higher” enough when these stats still shout loud alarm signals to our society.  Stealing, lying and cheating are not behaviors we want to be instilling in our young people. Not only as parents, teachers and guardians, but as a whole society we must not let this continue.  If these behaviors go unattended and are ignored, as a society we are equally at fault.

Vision, modeling and teaching – what we spoke about a few months ago when we develop a plan to raise well-adjusted and responsible citizenry. If our vision is to create trustworthy kids that will turn into the adults who will be the role models of the future, that goal has to be taught. Example is the best teacher, and those adults closest to children are their first and foremost models.  Yet we all have a responsibility to expect strong character development in our youth.

Character counts and expecting children to have integrity, be honest, and show loyalty to family, friends and country reflects the first pillar of character, trustworthiness.  How do we teach integrity, honesty, and loyalty to family?

Integrity is having the courage to do the right thing. With peer pressure and social demands, kids will yield to the dominant culture to be accepted. That is why it is so important to know who your child is associating with and who their parents are.  One day a friend told me she took her first grader to a classmates’ birthday party. When she walked him into the yard, another parent was standing amongst the kids with a gun in a holster around his waist.  She told the parent she was uncomfortable with the gun and took her child home.  It takes courage to do what you believe is right.

Honesty is telling the truth and not taking what doesn’t belong to you. Have you or someone you know ever asked a child to lie for you? Has it been inconvenient to take a phone call, but easy to say, “Tell her I’m not home.”  If we find something that does not belong to us, do we make an effort to find the owner and show our child that it is the right thing to do?   As a principal at a school that had several families with grave financial needs, I saw honesty in a moment I might not expect. A grandmother brought her young grandson into the office to turn in a five dollar bill that he found on the playground.  It took courage and showed great honesty for the grandmother to do what she did.  The family really needed the money.  (After several days and notes, no one claimed the money and we gave it to the grandmother and child.)  Not only did the little boy learn honesty first hand, but it literally paid off for him to do so!

Loyalty to family, friends and country. We want our children to be loyal to the people close to them and to the country that offers them so much.  We do this by performing acts of kindness to reflect the value of other people and their meaning in our lives. We honor our flag, respect laws, and teach the value of the gifts we have as American citizens.  Hanging a flag out on special holidays, teaching our National Anthem and reading children stories about great American patriots, such as honest Abe are great ways to begin.

Is there a specific memory you have about how you learned the pillar of trustworthiness? Have you had an opportunity to teach your child or one very close to you about honesty, integrity and loyalty?