Building Character In A Selfie World

We all want to raise our children to be good people with strong character, and in a recent national parent survey, an overwhelming majority believe that in today’s social media-focused world, nurturing positive character traits in children is more important than it used to be. Compassion, Honesty, Generosity – How Soon Should Parents Start Helping Their Kids Develop These Traits? Believe it or not, nearly half of parents surveyed think that preschool age is too young to begin learning social-emotional skills, skills like how to be generous, getting along with others, and compassion. So, how soon should you start… the answer may surprise you.

Unbeknownst to you, as a parent, you may be ignoring the key learning years for your child’s well-being as far as character goes. According to pediatrician and parenting expert, Dr. Laura Jana, it beings at birth. As a pediatrician and as somebody who is focused on early education and care, she knows that empathy, courage, cooperation, honesty, and generosity traits begin from birth. Even though over 90% of parents surveyed in this national survey by Primrose Schools think it’s more important than ever to develop positive character skills, almost half of them thought that the preschool age was too young to begin focusing on these skills. 

Most parents believe in it, believe that these skills do start at birth, however, they may not realize that they’re missing this window of opportunity within the first five years.

Parents are pertinent when it comes to developing social and emotional skills in their children, but what does that mean exactly? That means it’s about honesty, generosity, and compassion. Parents, you are the example for them from the day those babies are born. Babies learn through caring, responsive adults who are interacting with them on a day to day basis, giving them the generosity of your time and compassion for them when they are so helpless on their own.


There are some key aspects parents should be aware of when it comes to character development outside of the home. You and your partner want to be looking for establishments that promote a nurturing environment as well as a caring provider who will be with your child. There is so much evidence and understanding that proves that your children’s character development begins with the connection of neurons in the developing brain and how the child’s environment instills these skills within them. Dr. Jana was a Primrose School owner for over 10 years in the educational child care center and what she believes they did better than anybody around them at the time was really emphasize in their curriculum how they help teachers understand exactly how to do that – instill these character traits while the children are still young. They went even a step further to partner with parents that were in line with the over arching goals they sought in character development. 

Look for purposeful and intentional implementation of very simple things with young children: kindness, generosity, compassion, fairness, and honesty.

Those are the skills that everybody believes in and it’s what we want for all children.


Your most opportune time to begin instilling these selfless traits in your child(ren) begins at birth. Very early on, most parents don’t realize that you can start at birth – which simply consists of a warm nurturing interaction with your newborn baby. There’s nothing better than talking to babies, singing, cooing with them, and reading books. Whether you the parent or the childcare giver is with them, that warm, nurturing, social interaction is foundational for developing these skills.

As kids get a bit older, modeling caring and generosity and the like are really important, because it doesn’t matter what you say as parents or as educators – what children see is what they learn, so model simple things like acts of kindness, generosity, or helping children even start to take different perspectives.

Books are really good at illustrating this, because understanding other people’s emotions and what another person or character might be thinking gives them perspective in how someone else thinks and feels. Take Clifford The Big Red Dog for example or any similar beloved characters  – that gives them the beginnings of understanding how somebody else feels or what their perspective is on a situation outside of themselves.

Reading books is a great way to start, and then as they get even a little bit older, Dr. Jana suggests taking kids on what is like a caring and giving drive, similar to a canned food drive, but it isn’t just about how many cans can they get the parents to send their kids in with; it goes much deeper than that. The kids were actively involved: they did chores, they raised money, they went grocery shopping, and decided what other children would need to eat healthy. The children actually go through the whole process of figuring out how to give to other children and make sure other children had what they know is foundationally important in their lives, which is healthy food.

The overarching message that kids get is that these skills are really important, and it’s never too early to start introducing them and reinforcing them for children.


The best part of instilling a selfless character in your child is that it’s never too late. So what if you are past the newborn stage and quite frankly, you really didn’t realize how much all of this matters and that you could even start from day 1. Just because Dr. Jana says that there’s such an opportunity in the first five years that is absolutely not to say that it’s not important later on. The same things that we know foundationally develop in the first 5 years parents continue to model and discuss with children, the key areas of need for others: compassion, generosity, kindness, and honesty.

According to the national survey, parents are concerned with the world we now live in – a social media world, complete with its technology. This can give parents and their children a sense of disconnect. The key here is to help children understand that multiple perspectives exist; getting them to try to understand other people and how they feel. This is to help them develop and fine tune some of the most prized skills: communication, collaboration, and teamwork. Those things are what emphasizes those skills in middle schoolers. It basically comes down to how do you work as a team, or understand another person’s perspective?

Reading books where you start to understand how the world works and other people’s perspectives and recognizing those things are going to be important.

You’ll start to see that schools are really racing towards this idea. For instance, K12 is all about building creativity, social, and emotional skills. These are now being identified as the skills most needed for success, whether you’re talking about business, life, work, school, or any of them. Starting in middle school is simply a continuation of what you have started or what you can start now. The point is that there is an opportunity that is often overlooked in those first early years of a child’s life.


Wondering what’s next? If you look on the Primrose schools.com/blog website there’s more information about the survey in which Dr. Jana speaks about and explains further what parents know about, but doesn’t necessarily match up with what you may believe to be important. You can also find lots of tips on primroseschool.com that talk about character traits and some of the early brain research around it. You just may find it oddly compelling when you start to look at what your opportunities are and how you can influence such young minds in such a selfless way in our selfie world. 

Watch Dr. Laura Jana’s live interview.


Dr. Laura Jana is a board-certified pediatrician and proud mother of three, health communicator and award-winning parenting and children’s book author. She currently serves as Director of Innovation at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health. Having first received a BS Degree in Cellular-Molecular Biology, Dr. Jana earned her MD from Case Western Reserve University and completed her pediatric residency at UCSF and Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. In addition, she has provided health and lifestyle advice to media outlets nationwide, including The Today ShowCNNGood Morning America, PR, Time, People, The New York Times, and USA Today. Dr. Jana serves as a media spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and has served on the national Executive Committee for Early Education and Child Care.

If you have older children and you want to get them more involved in their community, consider Helping the homeless with Blessing Bags, a dose of reality in a selfless and compassionate way. 

Photo credits: AndiLpixabay

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Andi LaBrune

Andi is all about having a joyous life, living in the present moments. Rocking it out on the homestead with her husband, 9 blessed children and some chickens and ducks, it's home for her in northern VA. Using her background as a certified Holistic Practitioner and dabbling in numerous hobbies, she also freelances & blogs the skinny on the latest @ www.GetTheSkinnyOnEverything.com.

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