Do you want to know the eight secrets to helping your children be the best they can be? Well, they’re not exactly secrets—but “eight of Aristotle’s virtues” sounds like homework!
As parents, we all want to raise happy, confident adults. We lay the groundwork when our children are young, but it can take time to figure out how best to do that. Adapting Aristotle’s virtues for children in a modern world is a valuable approach for any family.
Stay with me for a moment and learn how to send your kiddos into the world as the best possible version of who they are!
Building a virtuous foundation
Life is better with friends, dreams, and a positive attitude. They help children stay motivated and move forward. But they need something to ground them . . . to keep them focused on living well in each moment.
Aristotle’s virtues can help children achieve this. These are the eight virtues to tap into:
- Bravery: have courage
- Generosity: help others in need
- Ambition: pursue your goals
- Patience: wait for good things
- Truthfulness: practice honesty
- Wit: use humor, but don’t make fun
- Confidence: believe in your abilities
- Friendship: be supportive & encouraging
In the first picture book of the Zuko and Allie Puff series, Zuko and Allie Puff are given superpowers—and learn their powers are meant for good. Their mentors encourage them using this list of eight, “If you live by these virtues, you will always do the right thing.” (page 23, Zuko and Allie Puff, New Friends)
The first step is for children to understand what it means to become the best people they can be—to be open to their talents and gifts while also focusing on being good and responsible. To this end, Aristotle’s eight virtues became our roadmap when our kids were young.
When people balance their gifts with their virtues, they can change the world. And we need children to become critical and creative thinkers.
According to Meredith Evans, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, “the sooner children embrace these virtues, the more comfortable they get turning down peer pressure, reaching out when they need help, and viewing themselves as successful.”(Evans, Meredith. 2022. E-mail message to author, August 7)
Often we teach our children by modeling the behavior we expect—we know they are watching our every move, right?
Tweaking the way we operate and making these virtues habits ourselves is a great way to teach by example. Below are some ideas on inspiring virtues!
Confidence and ambition
There is definite value in teaching children to be self-confident and ambitious. They need to realize that they can’t just wish for things to happen. Adults have to teach children to set goals and work diligently to achieve them. That builds confidence.
For example, to be a basketball player, a child first needs to set a goal of making the team. Then they need to make a plan that includes practicing before trying out. Once they make the team, they can set a new goal and practice more. Then, they can become confident in their skills.
Ambition without specific goals is not enough to achieve a dream.
Showing children how to set goals and work toward their dreams sets them up for future success. And when they do succeed, be sure to celebrate their accomplishments!
When Zuko and Allie Puff set a goal of cleaning up the air in the sixth book, The Pollution Solution, they start by making a plan. Find out whether their mission is successful in The Pollution Solution.
When children learn generosity at a young age, it can carry through to adulthood. Many people feel that helping others gives them a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that is greater than any tangible award. Generosity in childhood can take the form of volunteering time and talents for a certain cause. This can often take place by encouraging children to volunteer for school sponsored events. These experiences can also help change the way they view the world around them.
In the seventh book, Halloween Rescue, we see that generosity is a natural instinct for Zuko. He can’t resist helping others in need while out trick-or-treating with his friends. At the end of the evening, Zuko feels very fulfilled by the opportunity to come to the rescue and save those who need his help—even though it risked ruining his Halloween fun.
Generosity is often coupled with courage. It can sometimes take real courage to stand up for others who need help.
Being generous and brave is one way to stop bullying.
Teaching children to be brave and stand up for what is right shows them how to stand up for themselves as well as others. But they need to understand bravery does NOT mean putting themselves in a dangerous situation. If they feel a situation is dangerous, they should seek the help of an adult.
It is also important to teach children to be brave about trying new things, expressing their feelings, and showing others what they can do.
The best learning comes from making mistakes. One way to teach children to value the truth is encouraging them to own up to mistakes they’ve made. It can let them know that we don’t expect them to be perfect, and it places the emphasis on learning, not shame.
Fostering humility and honesty shapes how children represent themselves to others; it can prevent them from being boastful or feeling pressured to display a “perfect” image.
When kids feel safe, and are more open to being truthful (even when there may be a negative consequence), it can enhance their self-esteem, engagement with their peer groups, and feelings of achievement.1 It can also allow children to be honest with themselves so they can find their true talents and understand their limitations.
While Zuko is on a mission to repair a hole in the ozone layer in Book 5, he makes a big mistake. But he learns that admitting his error allows Allie Puff to step in and help him out. The mission ends in success, and all because he was truthful.
Has your child ever thrown a fit in Target or run out of patience in the gas line at Costco? Our instinct as parents is sometimes to cave to what our children want, just for a bit of quiet — but teaching our children patience helps them understand how to regulate their emotions.
Teaching a child patience prepares them to handle the many situations in which they will have to wait in the future. Teaching them this before they begin school will make life much easier for them, their classmates, and their teachers.
Meredith Evans suggests this virtue is extremely important for the zero-to-five-year-old population: “Children learn that impulsiveness doesn’t feel good (crying/tantrum behaviors) and that patience will get you what you want. The more that this virtue is practiced at a young age, the easier it will be for a child to understand the rules and structure that are expected in society.”
We can have the most fun teaching our children how to use the virtue of wit—to laugh and find humor in the world and in themselves!
Wit can help children make friends, cheer up someone who is feeling sad, or turn an embarrassing situation around.
Children can learn to laugh at themselves when they make mistakes that aren’t serious. We want our kids to know we don’t expect them to be perfect! No little robots are required. (Of course, it’s important to clarify that making fun of others is bullying, not wit.)
We want our children to learn not only how to be a true friend but also how to recognize one.
A true friend wishes the best for their friends and pushes them to do good.
A true friend is not jealous and does not talk negatively about their friends,
A true friend doesn’t encourage someone to do things that are not good for them.
Friends can be abundant, but a true friend is a precious gift.
Zuko knows that being a true friend is a virtue. In Christmas Snow Adventure, he reminds everyone that “true friends help each other make good choices and always have each other’s backs!”
Help Kids Find Fulfillment
When you teach children to follow these eight simple virtues, you will notice that they feel better about themselves and others too!
Encouraging Aristotle’s virtues enables them to grow into the very best versions of themselves—with courage, generosity, ambition, patience, truthfulness, wit, confidence, and friendship.
If you give your child the opportunity to practice these now, the virtues will stay with them for the rest of their lives. For Zuko and Allie Puff’s take on these virtues, download the free book available at the bottom of the page.