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20 Teachable Virtues

I’ve been enjoying the book 20 Teachable Virtues: Practical Ways to Pass on Lessons of Virtue and Character to Your Children by Barbara C. Unell and Jerry L. Wyckoff.  Whatever kind of parent you are, I’m guessing you (at least) want your children to learn “right” from “wrong” and how to navigate their own lives around those of others…kindly and responsibly.

The authors lay down the gauntlet at the beginning of the book.

Think of this book as your personal toolbox to clean up your individual environments, an individual commitment you are making to stop the pollution of our children’s lives with models of irresponsiblility and dishonesty.  It’s a wake-up call to say “Enough is enough!”

It’s the first book I’ve read that mirrors a little what Dan and I are doing, in that they stress practicing these things with your kids.  I mean, really practicing.  For instance, if your child is being called names at school, you model how to react and you practice (with her) her response to the bullying.  You may call her various names and have her practice saying, “You are not being kind right now.  I’m walking away from you, until you can be kind.”  Do that over and over again, until she seems to “get” it.  That sort of thing.  Children need to “see” morality and boundary-setting in action.

It’s our responsibility as parents.  No one else’s.

The responsibility to teach these twenty virtues rests squarely in our hands.  No other institution but the family can pass the baton of these virtues as meaningfully and comfortably as the family.  It is within these individual patchwork quilts of common history, shared genetics, and loving and familiar environments that the universal foundation of strong human character—empathy, responsibility, caring, and trust—with which these virtues are woven truly lies.  As imperceptible as a fallen eyelash, our models of virtue fall on bone-dry, young sponges each day—sponges just ready and waiting to breathlessly absorb these essential life lessons.

Most parents don’t need convincing.  They just need practical tools, and this book has them.  Numerous examples of them.  Here’s one on building problem-solving skills.

“It’s not fair that I have to do chores while Corey goes to T-ball practice on Saturday,” Jeremy complained as he worked at his assigned chores.

“I understand you don’t think it’s fair that you have to help with cleaning this Saturday while your brother goes to play ball.  Because you see this as a problem, what do you think could be done to make the situation more fair?” Diane asked.

“I think I should get to take the day off or maybe Corey could do the cleaning next Saturday while I go to a friend’s to play,” Jeremy answered.

“Well, if you take the day off, what do you think will happen?  Think about what’s best for everybody,” Diane suggested.

“I don’t know.”  Jeremy’s brow furrowed as he thought.  “I guess you’d have to do all the work.  That wouldn’t be very fair either.  Maybe having Corey do all the work next Saturday would be the best.”

“How do you suppose he’ll feel about that?”  Diane continued.

“I guess he won’t think that’s very fair.  But it really is because he didn’t do his work today,” Jeremy answered.  “Maybe you’ll have to talk to him like this so he’ll understand.”

Diane was pleased that her young son was able to think through the problem and to consider the outcomes.  The one he reached was fair—because it treated everyone’s time with respect.

You’d think all this would be “duh-obvious,” but for many parents it isn’t.  It isn’t that they don’t want to engage with their child; it’s that they don’t know how.  Why we’re not taught this sort of thing before we have kids is beyond me.  This is the sort of thing you learn in therapy sessions, when it should be taught in schools.  Learning how to negotiate and handle relationships.  Learning how to solve problems together.  Learning to respect others’ opinions.

Anyway, I’m wholeheartedly recommending the book.

No matter who you are (parent or no), it’s a fabulous, quick read on how to negotiate your way through life…wisely and responsibly.

[Post image: Liliana, October 2011]

2 Comments


  1. Shawn
    Nov 11, 2011

    Girl, you’re killing me with all these great books I have to read now! You read much faster than I … nonetheless, keep them coming! I’m loving it all. : ) xoxoxo


    • Elissa
      Nov 11, 2011

      Such great discoveries, no? I’m always looking for practical parenting advice. Got any? LOL.

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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