Breaking Down the Seven Key Character Traits Children Need Today for Happiness, Resilience and Success

The Center for the Advancement of Girls and The Agnes Irwin School, with the support of the Clower Family Speakers Fund, welcomed renowned educational psychologist and best-selling author Michele Borba, Ed.D., to discuss her newest book about teachable skills that set happy, high-performing kids apart. 

In Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine, Michele Borba, Ed.D, identifies what she says are the seven seminal character traits that children and teens need to be happy, well-adjusted, peak performers in a rapidly evolving world. 

According to her findings, children in 2021 are accomplished, better educated, and privileged. They are strivers – they strive to excel in classes, achieve high standardized test scores, perform in athletics, stand out in activities, and juggle responsibilities. But all of this striving, Borba says, is not necessarily helping kids to thrive. In fact, Borba’s research showed that despite being well-positioned to achieve their goals, children are less happy and more stressed, overwhelmed, and lonely than generations before them. 

Speaking to the AIS community, Dr. Borba theorized that while the usual markers for success such as grades and test scores remain relevant, character strength is most highly correlative to the resilience and emotional agility kids need to thrive in a culture that demands continuous pivots and adaptability.

“Character is lying dormant these days in lieu of test scores and GPAs. [However,] character is what will help your daughter achieve and be a happier kid.” - Dr. Michele Borba

In Thrivers, Borba delves into the seven traits she says all children should be strengthening: 

Self-confidence is the fuel that ignites motivation, says Borba. It grows when kids know who they are and can identify their natural interests. Ask your daughter, “What subject or activity do you enjoy most? What do you like about it? What makes you proud of yourself?” Remind kids that body posture, eye contact and an assertive voice are integral elements of confidence.

Empathy is a superpower, says Borba, but modern culture breeds depersonalization. The self-absorption that is pervasive today “erodes empathy, reduces prosocial behavior, builds false confidence, and boosts emptiness,” she writes. The good news is, empathy can be learned at any age. She suggests asking your child to name her own (other others’) caring acts, helping her to overcome discomfort in others’ differences and/or disabilities, and talking through emotions that others may feel.

Self-Control “The ability to control your attention, emotions, thoughts, actions, and desires is the untapped secret” of thrivers, says Borba. Self-control is a challenging trait to master, but continued discussions about decision-making, balance, and limits with technology are invaluable practice.

Integrity Children with integrity are tenacious, responsible, courageous, and resilient, says Borba. Discussing learned beliefs and defining a family moral code is paramount to navigating forward. Borba suggests praising the ethical behavior you see your child exhibit, asking “what if…” questions, and modeling your own ethical actions. Ask, “What kind of family do we want to be?” and “What kind of person do you want to be?”

Curiosity is what helps children to be open to possibilities and motivates them to learn – both inside the classroom and beyond it. In her research, Borba asked kids to describe experiences that spurred their curiosity: “From sandbox to prom age, they inevitably named open-ended, active, kid-driven experiences.”

Perseverance is what kids need in our highly competitive, constantly changing, uncertain world, says Borba. She suggests having talks about goal-setting and the silver linings of mistakes and also, using “bounce back” statements such as, “It doesn’t have to be perfect” or, “I can’t get any better unless I try.”

Optimism We need more hope. She advises parents to monitor news consumption, talk about good things you see and hear, and to use optimistic language. Directly or indirectly, kids now are exposed to an inordinate amount of fear.

Included among Dr. Borba’s remarks were the following inspiration and reminder for the parents in our audience: “Pessimism erodes hope. Kids who remain upbeat about life despite uncertain times have parents who model optimism. Be the model you want your kids to copy.”

For more information about the Center for the Advancement of Girls’ speaker series for 2021-22, visit agnesirwin.org/cag/events.
 

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