Many parents hope their kids will learn to be good citizens when they go to school; others believe that signing them up for a Scouts program will do the trick. What many parents don't realize is that good character is learned in the home.
A solid moral and ethical foundation supports the development of compassion, integrity, commitment, selflessness, and all of the other attributes that constitute the "good neighbor."
Respect for others is the linchpin of good citizenship. Instilling a respectful attitude in a child requires that discipline, when necessary, be delivered resolutely, yet calmly; that the child's point of view be taken into account when making family decisions; and that parents' actions be consistent with their words. These actions simply provide what has been called a child's first right -- good government.
A community cannot thrive without citizens who are willing to ask -- to paraphrase John F. Kennedy -- not what the community can do for them, but what they can do for the community. Children acquire this sense of social responsibility if they are consistently expected to contribute to their families, and if they are not overindulged. Children who aren't expected to perform daily chores are in danger of believing it's possible to get something for nothing. Pampered children never really learn that it's better to give than to receive. Unfortunately, children who don't do chores are usually also overindulged, and vice versa. This combination is devastating to a child's healthy character development.
When it comes to giving to children, be conservative. Hearing the word "no" on a regular basis helps children learn to postpone gratification, tolerate frustration, and set long-term goals -- all necessary attributes of good citizenship.
By age four, a child should be performing household chores on a daily basis. As the child grows, those responsibilities should increase so that by the early teen years the child is capable of carrying out just about any task. The more productive a child is within the family, the more productive a citizen that child will become.
This third "R" of good citizenship involves learning to tough it out when it comes to challenge. It was this frontier spirit that made America great, and it is just as important today as 200 years ago.
You can help your children develop an "I can!" attitude by setting reasonably high goals and then providing the support and encouragement needed to reach those goals.
A second aspect of resourcefulness is imagination. The more opportunities a child has for creative play, the stronger the child's imagination becomes. Give your child plenty of opportunities for free play, and also see to it that the benefits are not cancelled out by an excess of television watching or video-game playing, which are inert and passive activities that do not encourage creativity.
Remember, children don't learn good citizenship skills from babysitters, electronic or otherwise, but from their parents.