C is for Character : Skills Not Pills

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Skills that Pills for ADHD Cannot Teach You: C is for Character

Pills used in the treatment of ADHD can be helpful, and we have seen hundreds of lives changed by using stimulant medications such as Ritalin, or alternative treatments such as Attend.

But pills cannot teach the important skills that are needed to be successful in life. These skills have to be taught by us, the parents. One of these skills is the development of our character.

What is more valuable that our character? Is there anything more valuable than good character? Is there anything more worthy for us to focus effort in developing? No. The most valuable lessons that you can teach your children are the lessons necessary to form a good character.

The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.
– Thomas McCauley

Our character is defined by what we do, even when no one is looking. Our character is also defined by what we fail to do, or by what we choose on purpose not to do, even when no one is looking. Character is a matter of the heart, and so it follows us wherever we go. It reveals itself in the choices we make. Character is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.

Our values are our understanding of what is right, or wrong. Courage is doing the right thing even when there is a cost involved. Responsibility is doing the right thing just because it is the right thing to do. Self-discipline involves the denial of selfishness for the sake of self-improvement, or for the sake of other’s welfare. Honesty and Integrity involve the sacrificing of the expedient in order to do the right thing, no matter the cost.

Character involves all of these virtues. It is the living out of these virtues in daily life by the habits that we form, the choices that we make – hour by hour, day after day.

We are too occupied with our own whims and fancies, too taken up with passing things. Rarely do we completely conquer even one vice, and we are not inflamed with the desire to improve ourselves day by day; hence we remain cold and indifferent. If we were to uproot even one vice each year, we should soon become perfect. The contrary, however, is often the case…
- Thomas a Kempis, c. 1500 AD.

A part of developing or refining our character is found in taking an honest moral inventory of ourselves, and identifying what Kempis called “vices” in our lives that need to be removed. Then we need to do the work to remove the vice from our lives, and replace the vice with a virtue. For example, if we are impatient with others, then we purposefully work on removing that vice from our lives and replacing it with patience or charity for others – impatience replaced with its “opposite,” the virtue of charity.

The challenges of life don’t shape our character nearly as much as they reveal it. They clarify and bring to light what we have tried to keep private about ourselves – both the good and the bad of our natures. Life’s challenges give us the opportunity to pause and take that moral inventory. Then we can either take responsibility for our short-comings, and work to improve ourselves, or we can blame others for our problems and thereby avoid the need to ever work hard or to improve.

There are very few things about ourselves that we can actually choose. We cannot choose our size or hair color. We cannot choose our parents, or our native language. But one thing that we can choose is the quality of our character.

Many forces can work upon a person’s character, helping to shape or mold it. Parents, coaches, and teachers make their impression. So do good times, hard times, joy and grief. But in the end each of us has to decide who we really want to be, and make our choices.

Thoughts for Parents

Perhaps the most important point for parents to remember is that we are not “raising children,” rather we are “raising adults.”

We must purposefully consider what values, what skills, what “world view” that we want our children to master so that they can be successful as adults. If we are not purposeful in this endeavor then we will simply be leaving this responsibility to someone else – to our children’s peers, their teachers, their coaches, or the weird guy in the apartment down the street. This is not a responsibility that we can give to another. We are the parents.

Teaching our children these values, skills, and world-view takes time, perhaps an enormous amount of time. It is a big investment. This is where the “quality time” movement of the 1980s broke down and created problems in families. Parents cannot successfully teach values, skills, and proper world-view without an investment of “quantity time.” Fifteen minutes of “quality time” is no substitute for four hours of quantity time. Each of us as parents have to make the important decisions in how we will spend each hour of our days, which reveals a lot about our own character.

It takes time to build better relationships with your children and teenagers, and quantity time invested is the key to having a more successful family.

Thoughts for Athletes

Sports are often seen as character building opportunities, particularly it seems in our losses. When our team loses badly we are usually told that it is a lesson in humility (which it is) and that it is a lesson in character building (perhaps).

However, after coaching athletes for many years I have come to the conclusion that the greatest lessons to be learned from sports are the lessons learned, the character shaped, in paying the price to win.

Losing is easy, and anyone can do it. But doing the hard work that it takes to win, working both in season and in the off-season, every day, being diligent and self-controlled, forming the habits that are necessary to win, this is the classroom that teaches the great life-lessons of sport. This is the classroom that molds character. But we have to choose whether or not we will submit to the teacher and pay the price of success.

A Simple Tool for the Teaching of Wisdom and the Shaping of Character

Folly delights a man who lacks judgment, but a man of understanding keeps a straight course.
– King Solomon

The wise King Solomon lived over 2,500 years ago. He had 700 wives and princesses, and 300 concubines in his harem, and who knows how many children. He was wealthy and considered the wisest man of his time, as well as an excellent businessman and ruler.

Being a king, and having all those children, it was in his best interest to write down a training manual in “wisdom.” After all, he needed to train his children to become leaders in the nation, from governors to bankers, investment brokers to military officers. So he put together the classic collection of wisdom that we now call “The Book of Proverbs.”

The Proverbs are not very religious at all, at least not in the way that we usually think about religion. They are mostly secular in that they focus on the principles of health, managing and earning money, integrity, honor and honesty, making wise choices, and how to acquire further wisdom. It teaches the fundamental principles of having a successful life as an adult. It is sort of the “high school diploma” in wisdom.

The Book of Proverbs is divided into 31 chapters – one to read for each day of the month. Fathers, let me encourage you to spend some time each day with your children, particularly your sons, and train them in wisdom using this valuable – free – resource. Pretty much all of us have the book on our shelves somewhere, as it is found in the middle of our Bibles. Just spend ten minutes in Proverbs every day, discussing one important concept from that one chapter that you are looking at on that day. Over a period of time, as your child grows into a teenager, he or she will gain in wisdom and understanding beyond that of their peers.

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