Why Teach Virtue?

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Virtue almost seems a little antiquated. Maybe a lot antiquated. I mean, some of you might not really know how to define virtue. And if you can’t even define something, how important can it be to focus on that with your child?

Vitally important.

Virtue is vitally important. Even if you don’t know what virtue means.

I am willing to bet you really know what virtue is and that you even subscribe to the idea of teaching virtue to your children. Virtue is moral excellence. Virtue is strength. Virtue basically is every good moral quality in a person. Kindness, charity, honesty, diligence, patience, forgiveness, obedience, respectfulness…these are all virtues.

There is an old proverb you have probably both heard and quoted many times. “Patience is a virtue.”

This is just one of the seven heavenly virtues: Humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, liberality, and diligence. These are to contradict the seven deadly sins.

So why focus on virtue?

A focus on virtue is a focus on prevention. When we focus on virtue, we focus on preventing our children from future pitfalls.

We must be proactive in our modern world. There was the day, probably even childhood for many of us, when a parent could wait on teaching certain things. There was a day we could let children roam and have a grand time and all would turn out well. We could let their minds follow the innocent path of childhood and the path would be smooth and lead to a nice soft landing.

Those days are no longer reality. Today we need to be proactive. Today we need to teach children about common pitfalls at ridiculously young ages. Experts are suggesting teaching about pornography after the age of 6 is simply too late. Too late! That is not the world I grew up in.

Virtues protect against a myriad of problems. Let’s stay on the pornography topic. A child who is taught empathy, respect for others, and love for others is not going to be attracted to pornography. When “the world” tells this child that pornography is natural, the child will question that because it will be in direct contrast to what the parents have taught in the home.

Or how about the obstacle of self-worth. How many women and girls really like their bodies? How many are happy with what the see when they look in the mirror? What might happen if we focused on virtues of humility and liberality (combating pride and greed)? What if the virtues of loving others and shunning idols were so strongly embedded into a woman that she was able to ignore the onslaught of “you aren’t good enough” and tap in to the strength of her virtues and be happy with who she is?

A virtue is nurtured in the home. We might see good examples of virtues around us in the world. Those might inspire us to be better people. We might have rules reinforced that require us to act on certain virtues. Children will surely have rules at school, church, or dance class that certainly require the actions of virtues. But the nourishment of the virtues isn’t done while our children are out and about. We must nurture these in our home. We must explain why these virtues are important.

Acting on virtue will often mean you stand alone. Your child, if living the virtues taught at home, will most likely find him or herself standing alone as the virtue is followed or defended. Our children will need courage to do this. Our children will need confidence to be able to display the virtue to the world and not just shrink into the wallpaper.

Teaching virtue is about teaching your child to stand for what is right throughout their lives, even if it means standing alone.

Teaching Virtue Starts with Parents

Childwise Principle #8 is:

To teach a virtue, one example (you) is better than a thousand lectures” (
On Becoming Childwise
 , page 92).

Parental example is vitally important in teaching our children. I have talked about it in these posts:

So if you have read this blog much or at least those posts, I know you have heard it from me before. Your child will not exhibit behavior that you yourself don’t exhibit (unless you have one of those amazing children who pretty much turn out great no matter what you do–they are out there).

Why is this? Not only the obvious of your child observes you to learn how to behave. Nor the equally as obvious that your child isn’t going to really want to do something you aren’t really willing or able to do yourself. Another big reason is that so many of the things we are trying to teach a child are abstract ideas.

How do you explain respect? How do you explain kindness? How do you explain charity? I mean, how do you explain those so an adult with a fully functioning vocabulary can understand–much less a young child who doesn’t fully understand a fair chunk of the words you say anyway?

These are abstract ideas. “To be learned, to be internalized, the abstract must be made concrete. Parents do this through practical, everyday examples” (page 92). As parents, we demonstrate what these things mean throughout the day. Our children not only mimic our actions, but they learn to assign meaning to the abstract things we have told them about–watching us is how they create a concrete idea from the abstract description we have given them.

Hopefully this idea of turning the abstract into concrete will help you to understand even more the reason  your example is so important when it comes to teaching your children morals and virtues.

For more on virtue on this blog, see:

You can also check out some ideas from the ladies of the BFBN today. Check out:

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