How do parents build character and encourage virtue in their children, particularly in a world of selfies and social media obsession, with self-esteem powered by the number of “likes” one receives?

According to Leonard Sax MD PhD, physician, psychologist, and expert in child development, teaching virtue and self-control should be among the top priorities for one’s child. The three theological virtues that come directly from the Bible are faith, hope, and charity. While we could devote pages on how to teach important virtues to your child, let’s start with just one: Generosity.

There are a number of ways to foster generosity in your child. To jump-start your efforts, here are just a few ideas:

Encourage your child to be intentional in giving and sharing, rather than seeking positive attention or affirmation for doing a good deed.

Help your child to realize that you can live generosity in giving things that aren’t necessarily material things: you can give time, you can give attention, you can give kind words. You can be generous with all of your senses.

Exposing your child to needs around him/her can be very helpful. Parents can help their child see that they have so many things that are often taken for granted, and there are many people who do not have even the basic necessities of life. Parents might model that awareness and ask questions to help their child think through a situation. For example, a parent might say: “It looks like your friend has a lot of things to carry. Is there something you could do to help her?”

Allow your child to freely choose acts of generosity instead of obliging her. Rather than present needs as statements, use questions, so that she can decide for herself how she will be generous. This is also a great lesson in independence and critical thinking!

Teach good stewardship in the use of the gifts your child has and what he gives. Instead of enforcing non-specific generosity (i.e., “Share everything all the time.”), encourage your child to see a need and respond in a way that is appropriate to the situation. For example: If a classmate forgets her snack, it would be good to share with her. That does not mean giving up one’s entire snack. Perhaps sharing part of one’s favorite snack, rather than just giving the item he doesn’t like, would be the right act of generosity in this specific case.

Whether you’re trying to foster generosity or any other virtue in your child, teaching by example is the very best way you can guide your child. The old saying, “Practice what you preach” still has much merit.

By Vivian Heard and Sarah Oryschak

Vivian Heard is Manager of Communications at Pinecrest Academy, a PreK3-12 private Catholic School in Cumming, Ga. She can be reached at
Sarah Oryschak is a campus minister for the Lower School at Pinecrest Academy. She can be reached at

Developing the Whole Child at Pinecrest Academy

Founded in 1993, Pinecrest Academy is a PreK3-12, private Catholic school, providing an atmosphere of academic rigor and critical thinking, while offering personalized attention in a Christ-centered environment. Pinecrest prepares students to become Christian leaders, eager to transform society, and implements the Integral Formation® educational philosophy, developing the intellectual, human, spiritual, and apostolic dimensions of the whole child. A 2014 National Blue Ribbon School, Pinecrest is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Southern Association of Independent Schools, and is affiliated with the Georgia Independent School Association, National Catholic Education Association, and National Consultants for Education. Visit

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