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Character Education

Book Review: "Parents, Kids & Character: 21 Strategies," by Helen LeGette

This book by Dr. Helen LeGette is recommended by one of the premier character educators in the United States, Dr. Philip Fitch Vincent, who says it is probably the best general all-around guide to parenting with character in mind.Dr. Vincent is head of Character Development Group, a publishing house and a great character education resource. Dr. Vincent has over twenty years of experience in education. He has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in North Carolina and Alaska and at North Carolina State University. He served as the director of the Center for Ethics, Public Policy and Leadership at Greensboro College, Greensboro, North Carolina and has worked with school districts all over the United States to help them create character education programs and to put them into place.

Dr. LeGette was a guidance counselor for many years before she became the Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Burlington, North Carolina. Dr. Vincent asked her to write Parents, Kids & Character, and he was not disappointed with the result. Dr. LeGette’s years of experience and her broad knowledge of the fields of education and character make her book succinct, simple, thorough, and full of wisdom.

In a Nutshell

The 21 highly useful strategies she recommends are:

1. Model good character in the home.
2. Be clear about your values and beliefs. Tell your children where you stand on important issues.
3. Show respect for your spouse, your children, and other family members.
4. Model and teach your children good manners. Insist that all family members use good manners at home.
5. Have family meals together without television as often as possible.
6. Plan as many family activities as possible. Involve your children in the planning.
7. Worship together as a family.
8. Don’t provide your children access to alcohol or drugs. Model appropriate behavior regarding alcohol and drugs.
9. Plan family service projects or civic activities.
10. Read to your children and keep good literature in the home.
11. Limit your children’s spending money. Help them appreciate non-material rewards.
12. Discuss holidays and their meanings. Have family celebrations and establish family traditions.
13. Capitalize on the “teachable moment”. Use situations to spark family discussions on important issues.
14. Assign home responsibilities to all family members.
15. Set clear expectations for your children and hold them accountable for their actions.
16. Keep your children busy in positive activities.
17. Learn to say no and mean it.
18. Know where your children are, what they are doing, and with whom.
19. Don’t cover for your children or make excuses for their inappropriate behavior.
20. Know what TV shows, videos and movies your children are watching.
21. Remember that you are the adult!

The Importance of Parental Investment

Many, many books like this one begin with outlining the need to educate for character. This one is no exception. In the beginning are the usual horrific stories of irresponsible and even criminal youth behavior. The general decline of society in manners, morals, language and the content of entertainment are duly noted. The introduction offers the bright spot of hope that many concerned parents, educators, writers, and thinkers are seriously reviving the responsibility of adults to educate children in character.

The book then briefly goes into theory. Many parents and educators feel that character is “caught not taught”. In other words, example is the best and only teacher. Dr. LeGette maintains that in a better society, in a better age, children would be able to absorb character through osmosis—indeed, they do absorb a great deal from their parents’ examples. However, explicit teachings are needed just as much as good examples in an era when younger and younger children are offered drugs, alcohol, casual sex, and vile media entertainment. Character nowadays must be both caught and taught.

Dr. LeGette strikes a good balance between an old-fashioned strictness that is perhaps too much for today’s youth and too much modern permissiveness, which has proven to be disastrous. She seems to embody and understand well the proven theory that the best parenting is neither autocratic nor permissive, but builds a great deal of positivity and understanding into relationships in the home even as parents are recognized as the final, but loving, authorities.

For it is the home, Dr. LeGette maintains, that is the ultimate molder of character. Schools, church and community influences all play significant parts. Yet the primary school of character is the family.

Practical Tips

Dr. LeGette recommends building good home relationships through such simple things as listening and sharing family meals together. She tells of a deaf mother who nevertheless sat down and “listened” to her children each day after school. Because of her hearing problem, the mother had to listen with her whole body—studying her children’s lips, trying to gauge their emotions, noting their body language—and, as such, was a master listener who successfully raised children of good character.

She emphasizes family meals—a seemingly simple thing, but one that is increasingly hard to achieve in busy lives. Often practice sessions for sports and other activities occur right over the dinner hour, Dad gets home late from the office, Mom works and may be relieved that Dad picked up a hamburger on the way home and the coach took the kids out for pizza after practice because that means she doesn’t have to cook. However, Dr. LeGette cites several studies that have shown that family meals together, at least several times a week, socialize children well, supporting them in higher academic, psychological, emotional and social achievements.

Another important and neglected ingredient of parenting for character is time, Dr LeGette says. Yet, she asserts, “Many modern parents are torn in a constant tug-of-war between the marketplace and the home.” Parents, wanting to provide their children with abundance, often strive hard to make money to pay for more material things than the family really needs, at the price of time spent with their children. Dr. LeGette cautions that children grow up all too soon and the opportunities to both enjoy and influence them are all too fleeting. She advises families to build their riches spiritually and in their relationships. That is what counts most.

As an illustration, she tells the touching story of a father with his son in a public park. The little boy kept begging for a few more minutes on the playground equipment, and each time, the father genially agreed that they could stay a few more minutes. When a nearby parent complimented him on how patient he was with his small son, the father explained that his other son had been killed by a car. Many times, he wished he could have just a few more minutes of time with his lost son. Now, when his younger son begged for time when they were together, he was only too glad to grant it, because it meant also that he got to spend more time with a precious child.

It shouldn’t take death to remind us how precious time with our children is—how it is more important than more material things. Of course, many parents must work hard just to make ends meet. Fortunately, children understand these kinds of parents, especially later in life, when they are mature enough to see the sacrifices their parents went through on their behalf. They know that the parents were working for their benefit and they emulate their example of hard work for a selfless cause—the cause of raising a family.

The Role of Spirituality

Dr. LeGette’s book, while not a religious book, certainly recognizes the role of religion in molding and benefiting character. Statistics show that families who worship together tend to have fewer problems with the social difficulties that surround us in our society. Also, encouraging children in the religion of the family—whatever that religion may be—honors something natural in children—their spirituality.

The work of Robert Coles is noted, and it is particularly noteworthy. Coles has become interested in the spirituality of children when, as a psychologist, he could not help but notice how important a role it played in many children’s lives. Coles cites the case of Ruby Bridges, the first black child to desegregate a school in New Orleans. Each day this child faced hecklers who used all kinds of harassment, hate speech, and threats to try to dissuade her from entering school. One day the crowd got particularly riled when it appeared Ruby was addressing them. Coles, assigned to the job of supporting Ruby psychologically through the ordeal, questioned her about the incident. Ruby said she had not been talking to the crowd, she had been praying for them. After all, they needed praying for. God had to be asked to forgive them for their bad behavior because they “knew not what they did.”

Coles, the expert child psychologist, was humbled before the deep and mature spirituality of this child. She was the product of a deeply religious home and a loving, supportive community that nurtured its children spiritually to insulate them from the white hostility that surrounded them. The righteous character molded in Ruby by adults who nurtured her spirituality gave a nation pause—and ushered in a new era of improved race relations.

Children of Peace

LeGette’s book is full of gems in regard to character development. It is full of sound, wise, common sense buttressed by scientific study. It is the voice of an educator as well as the voice of a parent and an adult sympathetic to the trials of children. It is clear that Dr. LeGette truly wants the best for children and sees character molding as ultimately the most merciful, beneficial, and helpful thing parents can do for their children to turn them into successful, happy, productive adults.

This parenting handbook is readable, short and to the point, yet teeming with good will toward children, parents, and society. It is really a “gold standard” book on parenting for the formation of character and highly recommended for all those interested in raising children of peace.

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