Activities III -- Helping Your Child Become a Responsible Citizen

Our Heroes!

Heroes are everywhere, and sharing stories about them can help children understand what qualities it takes to be a hero and what heroism really means.

Childlike drawing of a father and mother looking at a book with a child that has a picture of a firefighter in it.

What You Need

Family photographs; newspaper pictures of local people who have been recognized for community service, bravery or selfless acts; pictures from books or the Internet of people in history or current events whom we admire.

What to Do

    By the stories we tell about the people we admire, we can inspire children and remind them of the qualities of character that we think are important.
  • Talk with your child about what it means to be a hero. Ask him what he thinks a hero is and what qualities a hero has to have. Ask him who his heroes are and why.

  • Select a photo of someone in your family who has an admirable quality or who performed a courageous act. You might choose a grandparent who left everything behind to immigrate to the United States or your mother who sacrificed so that you could have a good education or your father who fought in a war. Sit with your child and tell him about the relative's life. Talk with him about the qualities of character that the relative showed—courage, self-discipline, responsibility, citizenship, and so forth.

  • Show your child newspaper pictures of local people who have performed acts of courage or service to the community. Talk with your child about what the people did and why they are considered "heroes."

  • Show your child pictures of figures, living and dead, who have been called heroes. Choose people whom you admire and feel comfortable talking about with your child. In addition to well-known individuals, you might choose groups of people, such as the firefighters and police officers who sacrificed their lives at the World Trade Center in September 2001.

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How Can I Be of Service?

From an early age, children benefit from giving their time and efforts to help others.

What to Do

    Research has found that children's participation in community service programs, especially when combined with reflection about the importance of serving others, can make important contributions to their character development.
  • Talk with your child about the importance of charitable work and serving others. Point out that such work is an important part of living in a civil and democratic society.

  • Help your child think about age-appropriate things that she can do to serve the community. For example, your young child might help you sort items for recycling or give money from her piggy bank to a charitable group. An older child might participate in walks for charity, volunteer at animal shelters or visit residents of a local nursing home.

  • Find information about community service organizations and share it with your child. You can begin by going to the Web site for the newly created Freedom Corps——and looking for possibilities for volunteering and community service. You might also download or order Students in Service to America: A Guidebook for Engaging America's Students in a Lifelong Habit of Service at; or call toll-free 1-866-245-7378, ext. 272, to order. A nominal fee may be charged for reproduction and distribution of this product.

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Everyone faces hardships at some point in life. Children need to learn skills and qualities that can help them survive difficult situations.

What to Do

    Relationships with adults that create love and trust, provide good role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster children's resilience.
  • Talk with your child about resilience, or the ability to succeed despite hardship or tragedy. Talk about how people cope with situations such as family breakups, health problems or community disturbances.

  • Explain to your child that resilient people have certain things in common and these qualities are real assets for any person to have. Researchers have identified many of them, and below is a short inventory of such assets. Have your child rate herself on each one and discuss the results with her.

    Personal qualities
    • The ability to make a plan and carry it out
    • A positive view of herself
    • Confidence in her abilities
    • A belief in her strengths
    • The ability to communicate well with others (family, friends, and strangers)
    • The ability to solve problems
    • The ability to manage anger
    • The ability to manage impulses

    Social qualities
    • Having a caring relationship with at least one adult who encourages and supports her
    • Knowing that someone loves her
    • Having an adult role model

    Or, you may want to review with your child the more comprehensive "Forty Developmental Assets," prepared by the Search Institute (check

  • Help your child make a plan to develop one or more of his assets.

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Are You My Friend?

Children need to learn to choose their friends wisely.

What to Do

    Children need guidance in choosing friends who care about others and who act responsibly.
  • Talk to your child about what she thinks a friend is. What qualities should a good friend have? In addition to being fun, is a friend honest, dependable and compassionate?

  • Talk to your child about how to tell when someone is not a good friend. For example, does the person tell lies or cheat? Say things to hurt the feelings of others? Pick on children who are smaller or not as strong?

  • Get to know your child's friends. Invite them to your home or take them along on a trip to the park or bowling alley. Observe their behavior and listen to what they say to each other. It is very important for you to know with whom your child is spending his time. Sometimes a child will select friends who are inappropriate. Often, after these friends spend time with the family, the child independently realizes that they don't fit in.

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Listen to Your Feelings

Children need to learn to notice their feelings and take them into account as they make decisions.

    Our feelings often provide helpful warnings about what are good and bad things to do and about whom we can trust.
  • Help your child learn to identify his feelings. Talk out loud about how you are feeling. Ask him how he is feeling.

  • When reading a story or watching a TV show with your child, discuss the feelings of the characters. What might they be feeling and why?

  • Help your child realize that sometimes the way we think about things affects the way we feel. If something is bothering your child, help him examine his thoughts and change them so that he feels better. For example, your teenager may worry about how he's ever going to hold down a job and support himself. You could ask him why he's so worried about the future and help him get his mind on doing the best he can in the "here and now."

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Share a Story

Reading with children and encouraging them to read widely on their own can reinforce what they are learning about the qualities of strong character.

What to Do

    Simply reading a book to a child or having him read a book on his own will not cause him to change his behavior or suddenly adopt strong values. Parents should help children to think about what they read, reflect on it and talk about how it might relate to their own lives.
  • Find books that offer examples of important qualities of character. (See the lists at the end of this booklet.) Set aside time to read the books with your child or, for an older child, to talk about the book after he has read it on his own. Talk with him about the behavior of different characters in the story. Ask him how some of the behavior might apply to his own life. Encourage your older child to find and read other stories and books about people with strong character qualities.

  • When reading stories to children, ask them to tell you which characters demonstrated character traits you think are important. For example, ask who was caring in the story? Who demonstrated honesty? Who demonstrated courage? Many times both the hero and the villain of a story demonstrate the same character traits (e.g., courage, perseverance, responsibility). Ask your child what is different about the hero and the villain? What made the hero a hero and the villain a villain?

  • Set aside regular, quiet time for family reading. Some families even enjoy reading aloud to each other, with each family member choosing a book, story, poem or article to read to the others.

  • Make sure your home has lots of reading materials that are appropriate for your child. Reading materials don't have to be new or expensive. You often can find good books and magazines for your child at yard or library sales. Ask family members and friends to consider giving your child books and magazine subscriptions as gifts for birthdays or other special occasions. (See the list of children's magazines at the end of this booklet.)

  • Encourage your child to use the library. Take your child to the local library and help him get his own library card. Ask the librarian to help him locate different areas in the library and to use the library catalog to find materials in which he is interested.

  • While you are at the library with your child, check out some books for yourself. Be a positive role model for reading. Let your child see you reading.

  • Turn off the TV and limit the amount of time that your child spends playing computer games!

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Last Modified: 07/17/2008