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Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

Ask the Experts: How Do You Teach Children Virtues?


To teach a virtue, I sometimes let my kids make unwise decisions which teaches them far more than I could by bailing them out.

Teaching the Virtue of Prudence…

I cannot stress enough how important rapport with one’s children is.

While they are learning to practice virtue, it is imperative that kids know they are loved and cherished and parents communicate in a way that fosters a close, trusting relationship.

Prudence is “the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason.” I do three things: talk, listen, and act. I talk about hard subjects with my children and talk often.

We have had “hard” age-appropriate conversations since they could speak. Now with teens, we talk about choices and consequences and how some are small and others can be life-changing.

This is easily done at family movie night. I will ask, “Why did this character behave in this way? Was it a wise or foolish choice? Did anyone get hurt as a result? What could he have done differently?” This opens discussion on this virtue in a non-personal or judgmental way. I also learn a great deal about my children by listening to their answers.

The other way I teach this virtue is much harder. I sometimes let my kids make unwise decisions. When they are small and won’t listen to put on a coat on a cold day, I don’t bring one for them on a normal errand run or walk outside.

They get cold, which teaches them far more than I could by bailing them out. In the same vein, once they are in sixth or seventh grade, I let them set their school schedule.

They check in with me every day or two, but my days of hovering are over.

My kids have spent many Saturday afternoons hitting the books because their work didn’t get done, and some finish the school year later than others. In this way, my kids “fail” in the safe environment of the home, where they are surrounded by those who love them and will help set them back on the right path.

Kristin Brown, Virginia

Teaching the Virtue of Self-Control…


When I took a firearm safety class, the instructor talked a lot about muscle memory. He stressed the importance of practicing what we learned to make the movements automatic.

Eventually, the practice would lead to competency and a permanent memory of how to perform the new skills. Teaching the virtue of self-control is similar. We give children repeated opportunities to exercise self-control in small ways so that, over time, it becomes their default response.

In our household, a particular setting comes to mind for teaching self-control: the dinner table. Decades ago, we established rules for suppertime. The rules are unchanging and predictable, so everyone knows what they are and is expected to follow them.

Specifically, everyone eats only the food presented, no one leaves the table without being excused, and everyone remains until the last person has finished eating. It is helpful to offer children limited choices so they have a sense of autonomy in decision-making.

Therefore, my children can obey the table rules or forfeit dessert. In other words, we can exercise the virtue of self-control or suffer the consequences. I allow my children to experience the consequence (dessert or no dessert) of their decisions.

Eight children and countless mealtimes later, it is rare for any of my “students” to not automatically exercise self-control around the dinner table.

Peaceful family dinners are the norm. Of course, it took consistent practice in the earlier years, but the result was well worth the effort.

Tara Brelinsky, North Carolina

Teaching the Virtue of Temperance…

As with the teaching of all virtues, temperance must first be modeled by the parents. I failed in temperance as a child and had the physique to prove it. By the grace of God, I overcame my childhood shortcomings.

Being sensitive then, to the need for this virtue in raising children, I have made sure that it is taught from a very young age.

Temperance is usually considered necessary in our food consumption but is also needed in all areas of our day. I try to make sure that my children’s days have time for prayer, schoolwork, free time, exercise, chores, proper mealtimes, and adequate rest.

I have made sure to be aware of what are proper amounts for each child’s needs, to teach them by my example, and to set standards for them to adhere to until they get to an age to regulate themselves. If necessary, I will give gentle reminders when I see something that needs to be brought to their attention.

So far, I am impressed at how well they do, as I remember my lack of this virtue in my childhood.

Temperance is a virtue that will help our children to grow up to be adults who are healthy in mind, body, and soul..

Susan Brock, Virginia

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