Sunday, September 27, 2009

Character Is The Key ~ Book Review

As most of my readers are aware I am a mommy of three. My children are not always easy to deal with nor simple to understand. I often refer to my children as demanding, strong-willed, and spirited. To be honest I've always felt that these are desirable personality traits but can make a parent such as myself frustrated and worn to a thread! My focus as a parent has always been to raise children with character, to be empathetic people of integrity, so when Mom Central offered me the opportunity to review a book meant to help parents build the character of their children and their family and unlock the best in their children and themselves I jumped at the opportunity!

The idea for Character Is The Key stemmed from author Sara Dimerman's desire to bring Ontario's character building school curriculum home:

The bottom-line reason for this book: without the participation of parents, the character education movement is lacking an essential element, and children are missing perhaps the most crucial factor in building their character, the one that can reach them "where they live".

Dimerman, a therapist and parent educator, is the director and founder of the Parent Education and Resource Centre in Ontario and has a syndicated column Help Me Sara in publications across Canada and the United States. Her experience is more than theoretical as she is a mother herself and has used the principles of Character Is the Key with her own family with great success! Who better to look to for advice and an action plan to develop your families' core values.

We are in a battle for the hearts and mind of our children. Today more than ever our children are being bombarded by outside influences. We are fighting the influence of media in the form of not only television and film but video games and Internet. Once our children start school and participate in other activities outside the home they become influenced by others. The fight to counter these influences seems daunting but if as parents we can instill in our children the core values we most strongly believe in we can unlock the best in our children. Sounds so theoretical and it is without a plan. We often rush through life and consider that our family life is working adequately. We assume that we are examples of good character our children can look to for guidance but we often forget to do this with intention. As parents we are the most influential models of behaviour for our children. Dimerman's book leads parents to look introspectively at their own behaviours and to concentrate on intentionally modelling our core values rather than continuing to teach character haphazardly.

Character Is The Key is easy to read and follow. The book is full of real life examples which make each step seem less overwhelming and the Short and Sweet summaries at the end of each chapter summarize the main points. Great for a quick review or refresher! I was most impressed by the hands on activities which accompany each character trait.

I had an enlightening parental moment as I read about the concept of parenting today for tomorrow. I have often commented on my daughters and their demanding natures. I have always felt that if directed properly this could hold them in good stead in the future and Dimerman believes this to be true. She says that parents are often frustrated with such characteristics as demanding, nosy, and bossy could in essence be equated with desired traits such as self-confidence, persistence, curiosity, and Independence. When we expect behaviours such as obedience and wanting to please we need to realize that these are not always the best traits in adults! How very ironic!

Character Is The Key lays the ground work for a family plan. Even if you feel you are well on your way to a family which focuses on character I think reading this book is a recipe for even greater success. The introduction of family meetings and the monthly focus on each of the values you cherish ensures the understanding of character and teaches your children to communicate in terms of a new vocabulary...a vocabulary of character! When you discuss respect or responsibility with your children do they truly understand what these terms mean? When I thought about it I realized I use these terms regularly but have never intentionally spent the time teaching my children the definitions of these words. After meetings with various family groups ten character traits were selected as core values to focus on. Character is the Key focuses on these traits: respect, honesty, fairness, courage, optimism, responsibility, empathy, initiative, perseverance, and integrity. Families may add to or subtract from this list as they see fit.

My children range in age from 5 to 9 years. Though I found the initial meeting worksheets a bit daunting for young children these meetings can be modified to suit your family and the activities created by Dynamix--a Canadian-based organization and a leader in team-building and character building activities for kids and teens--are easily implemented, fun, and provide children with concrete examples of what is meant by each character trait. They also double as great family bonding experiences!

Reading this book has definitely opened up new avenues of communication in our family. We were well on our way to a successful and happy family life but by intentionally following the family plan Dimerman presented we have been able to add a new dimension to our teaching of character. My husband and I are even more conscious of modelling character and I have actually decided to begin asking further questions of the school regarding their programming on character development. Dimerman mentions that perhaps asking about aspects of your child's character at parent-teacher interviews instead of focusing on academic questions could be a wonderful way to gain insights on another very important side of your child and their education. I plan to do just that!

Character Is The Key by Sara Dimerman opens a new dialogue and is a resource I would recommend to any family! As the title more than implies Character development education is an important key to our children becoming the people we hope they will be!

You can find Character is the Key at your local bookstore and online retailers such as McNally Robinson, (USA) and (Canada), and

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