1. Build virtues by routines and consistency in the home.
All the gold on earth or below earth are not equal in price to virtue.
Habits are developed by repetition of the same actions. Hence Aristotle said: We become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions. Routines provide the structure for habits to develop. Habits are the stuff of virtues.
Therefore, put routines in place in the home and be consistent. Virtues need to be “grooved” by repeated actions like regular jobs, daily timetables, home routines, and consistent parental expectations.
Consistency is very important: unity of parents, and unity of teacher with parents. There must be no mixed messages. All the respected adults in the child’s life must realise the duty they have to give good example.
But then get ready for the long haul; Rome wasn’t built in a day: It is easy to perform a single good action but not easy to acquire a settled habit of performing such actions. (Aristotle)
2. Any real virtue is motivated by love.
Virtue joins man to God: all human beings have an inherent worth, the universal brotherhood of man.
Give a living example of round the clock love, that never gets fed up or runs out of patience. Live for your spouse. In your own life model the habitual kindness and service that underpins true virtues. Make service to others the lynchpin of your family life and give constant example of it. Virtues are best learned in a family, where an overriding motivation is the welfare of the other members. In such an environment the motive for action is love. In the family, love is unconditional; a failure to exercise virtue is corrected. The family is the most natural environment for fostering virtue.
3. Virtues are all about getting the actions consistently right
Put the emphasis on deeds not words. Xenophon remembers how Socrates stressed not only the importance of seeking wisdom, but the end point had to be in considered action.
When he was asked what he though was the best occupation for a man, Socrates replied, ‘Effective action’. Xenophon
Follow up responsibilities and ensure accountability for jobs that are given.
4. Don’t do the thinking for your child.
…a man who can think for himself…
Emphasise reason over impulsive reactions. Virtue needs the guidance of clear headedness, right judgement, common sense…whatever name we wish to use for the virtue of prudence. And if a child is to develop that virtue he or she needs lots of practice making their own decisions.
5. Virtues are caught more than taught.
Give good example in everything and manage the inputs. Be aware that children will imitate whoever, or even whatever television character, they associate with. Note this salutary warning:
A magnificent house, massive wealth, a splendid genealogy, and high office, eloquence and fluency, are all incapable of giving life the degree of fair and calm weather that is afforded by a mind which is untainted by bad actions and intentions and which bases life on a character that is calm and clear.
6. Don’t let bad habits build up.
A young person’s character is like wax for the growth of bad habits.
We ignore this warning at our children’s peril . Since vices are also habits, it is important to follow up and correct misbehaviour before it becomes entrenched. Have strategies to manage habit-forming behaviours that can have a down side, for example: computer games, unrestricted viewing, curiosity on the internet, snacking at will. Do we, who live in the most affluent countries in the most affluent tip of mankind’s history, understand how greatly misplaced habits can cramp a child’s potential for life? Spoiled children will not easily seek happiness in virtue, but rather in Nintendo and at McDonalds.
7. Clearly teach what is right and wrong.
Education and admonition commence in the very first years of childhood…. Mother and nurse and father and tutor are vying with one another about the improvement of the child as soon as ever he is able to understand what is being said to him: he cannot say or do anything without their setting forth to him that this is just and that is unjust; this is honourable, that is dishonourable; this is holy, that is unholy; do this and abstain from that. If he obeys, well and good; if not, he is corrected by threats and smacks.
In this passage, Plato is saying that a number of ingredients must all be present. First, character education starts from the cradle. Second, all the adults who are involved with a child must be in agreement on values. Third, there is a persevering effort to teach clear criteria of right and wrong, and to establish clear expectations in all aspects of the child’s life. Fourth, there needs to be close followup and some form of correction.
8. Habits are most easily acquired in younger years.
Good habits formed in childhood make all the difference.
Aristotle echoed Plato’s advice to start early. There are “windows of opportunity” for building particular virtues; for example, a child who has not learned the importance of truthfulness by the middle of primary school, at the latest, is likely to have real difficulties in facing reality, etc
9. Foster the virtues of the head and the heart.
Let us strengthen our inner defences. If the inner part be safe, man can be attacked but never captured.
Foster sincerity and generosity at every opportunity. Seneca’s inner defences are these virtues most proper of our minds and hearts.
10. Sometimes the best lessons are the hardest.
The Gods have made virtue the reward of toil.
Don’t make excuses for your child. Don’t overprotect. When it is not putting children into moral or physical danger, have them solve their own problems and wear their mistakes.