Book review: Character is the Key

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

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Mom Central Canada recently provided me with a copy of ‘Character is the Key: How to Unlock the Best in Our Children and Ourselves’, by Sara Dimerman.

I was interested to read this book in particular as I believe that character development is one area where we, meaning my husband and I as parents, are fundamentally responsible for educating our children.  I am perfectly happy for daycare or school or another caregiver or someone (anyone) else to teach them how to use a potty, how to tie their shoelaces, how to write the letter “O”. That doesn’t matter to me.  What matters to me is that I teach them to be kind, to be sorry when they hurt someone, to care.

The one thing that stood out for me while reading this book, the one thing that I will definitely start to implement? Instead of saying to the boys, as we do almost every day…no wait, more like almost EVERY 5 MINUTES, “say sorry!” – the author suggests instead asking “do you feel bad about what you did?” or “do you feel sorry about what happened?”.  That is brilliant.  Seriously.  No point in forcing them to mumble sorry if they don’t mean it.

Some of you will remember the time that I posted the story about Oliver stamping on an injured bird.  I was so upset with him and with myself that day. It hurt me so much because both boys have been raised to be kind and caring – and careful. As much as possible. I really do think, based on his normal character, that he was still mostly asleep and a little bit scared.  A year later, and I’d be able to have an actual conversation with him about it now.  Back then, he wasn’t even 3.

Although much of the concrete activities suggested, such as family meetings, are much more appropriate for older children, there were some tips for younger children that I took away.  When teaching character, or pointing out an example of good character, she suggests using the word itself.  E.g. “Callum, it was so great of you to persevere, the way that you kept trying to climb those steps to the slide until you did it!”.  I would never have thought to say ‘perseverance’ to my kids; I’d normally sing “keep trying, keep trying, don’t give up” – a little ditty from Yo Gabba Gabba.  But I like that idea, of using the proper word, probably because I am a fan of expanding vocabularies.

I also like the fact that Dimerman is Canadian, that the book has a Canadian context – and for me a very local context.  She mentions the Character Matters initiative at the York Region District School Board – which is our local Board.  It pleases me that my kids are going to school in a region that recognizes character development as important in the classroom as well as at home.

I think this book would be a useful addition to a list of parenting education books, such as those that a parenting group facilitator may use.  The only downside for me was that I probably already knew that much of what she was suggesting was a good idea, and we are already actively modeling the character traits she mentions (hopefully most of the time, anyway – no one’s claiming perfection around here).  So this book would be recommended reading for parents who might be struggling with their family situation (e.g. going through a nasty divorce, facing other kinds of hardship).  And I think I will draw on it more in the future, when the kids are older, and things may be slightly more democratic than they are now.

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‘Character is the Key’ can be purchased at major book retailers such as Chapters.

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of ‘Character is the Key: How to Unlock the Best in Our Children and Ourselves’ and received a gift certificate to thank me for taking the time to participate.

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