A resource that I refer back to periodically is a book called Character Building: A Guide for Parents and Teachers by David Isaacs. It outlines the general virtues that parents should be developing in their children at various ages.
It seems to me that the transition for parents is just as difficult as it is for children. Teaching and motivating children and this age takes more patience, more explanation, and a different approach. Saying “because I asked you to” doesn’t cut it anymore. Children become more aware and are looking to their parents’ example as much as their words. Although they are paying more attention to the world around them, their awareness doesn’t penetrate very deeply beyond themselves. This is the perfect time for the “object lesson” — but you still have to spell it out.
From 8 to 12 years old
As we will see, we now come to four virtues connected with the cardinal virtue of fortitude; two connected with justice and one with the theological virtue of charity.
Children at these ages undergo a series of biological changes with the arrival of puberty, and it is very desirable for them to develop their will, so as to strengthen their character. They now begin to take more personal decisions but they need criteria in order to know whether their efforts are going in the right direction. We complement the virtues connected with fortitude by including some virtues directly concerned with other people – responsibility, justice and generosity.
Anyway, it is logical for children of this age to focus more on what they are doing, on the action itself, than on the person at the receiving end of the action. They are not yet very aware of their own intimacy. This is a stage when we should try to get children to keep at things not out of obedience, but rather for the satisfaction of managing to overcome some obstacle. This is the age for challenging targets (but reasonable targets). Just as the small child is very aware of the rules of the game when playing with his companions and in general in relationships with others, it is surely good to stimulate children to develop virtues out of a sense of duty towards their companions, for example, but without forgetting to enthuse them with a worthwhile ideal. In this way they will get the satisfaction that comes from making an effort to overcome themselves.
All these virtues call for the use of the will. When we come to the descriptions of the virtues we will see that they have to do with ‘putting up with annoying things’, with ‘continually making an effort to give to others’, to ‘attain what they set out to achieve’, to ‘resist evil influences’, etc. To do all these tings they need to set their sights high and not to be content with mean ideals.
This is a crucial time for ‘aiming high’. By this I mean raising children’s sights up towards God and getting these human virtues to build up their developing faith.
Next time we will touch upon:
From 13 to 15 years old