Raising children of good character may seem like a no-brainer, but in practice, it can actually be quite challenging. Parents today compete with distractions from social media, their children's peers, teachers, and other media sources. Making a few character-building activities part of your regular routine can help teach children essential skills that will help them interact with others successfully. These character development games for kids work equally well in a family or school setting.
What Is Character Building?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, character-building is defined as "helping to make someone emotionally stronger, more independent, and better at dealing with problems." Practicing character-building games can help your child develop skills, such as communication and teamwork, that will help set them up for success in the world.
That's What I Like About You
This activity can help children see what their strengths are and build self-esteem. According to Kids Health, children who understand their "strengths and weaknesses and feel good about themselves seem to have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures." Character-building games like this one can help.
- Permanent markers
- Have everyone in the group sit in a circle.
- For smaller groups, pass out the same number of balloons to each person as the total number in the group minus one. So, if there are six people in the group, each person gets five balloons (one for each person aside from themself). For larger groups of 10 or more, pass out two balloons to each person and ask group members to pick one person of their choice and one person they don't know well. As the leader, you should also take balloons and choose kids you think might not be chosen as readily as others.
- Instruct group members to blow up a balloon with a particular person in mind, tie it and add a ribbon.
- They should then write the person's name and a positive trait of that person on the balloon with the sharpie.
- Repeat the process with subsequent balloons.
- Once everyone has finished blowing up and writing on their balloons, have group members take the balloon to the person that balloon is for. Each person should have several balloons with positive sayings on them.
Teaching children the concept of respecting others can be a vital skill when they are adults. Respect can translate into the workplace or the community. Imagine a worker who does not respect their boss when they are asked to complete a task. They probably won't have their job for very long. Now, you can probably see why this skill is an essential character trait you'll want your child to develop.
- For this activity, you need two volunteers. (Alternatively, you can do this activity with your two children at home). If the group has more than two children, the others can observe.
- Instruct your volunteers to act out two scenarios. In the first scenario, two friends are talking on the bus. They are being very rude to each other (saying unkind things, interrupting each other, pushing, etc.).
- Pause after this skit and ask the kids what the two were doing that wasn't respectful. Allow and facilitate discussion.
- Have the same two volunteers act out the same scene, but tell them to be respectful to each other and not do any of the things that weren't respectful. Tell them to be kind, not interrupt one another, not push, etc. Afterward, continue a discussion on the differences between the two scenarios.
Seeing behaviors acted out makes it clear to children what behaviors are unacceptable.
How to Be a Hero
Good citizenship involves many things, from helping others to caring for those we interact with and showing a personal interest in them. According to Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., in an article for Psychology Today, when children develop good citizenship skills, they make a "greater mark on the world."
- Crayons or markers
- Gather your children or class and start a discussion on heroes. Ask the kids to name traits of a good hero. Guide them to words such as helpful, kind, and brave.
- Now, ask them to name some heroes they know both from movies or television and from real life. Kids may come up with superheroes as well as civil servants such as doctors and firefighters. Encourage them to look more deeply at other people who might not appear to be heroes at first glance but who perform heroic/selfless acts, such as the neighbor who mows another's lawn when their father had surgery or the parent who gives up sleep to get up early to take them to a soccer game.
- For the second part of the activity, ask the students to draw a picture of themselves, but to turn themselves into a superhero with all the traits a hero has.
- End with a discussion on how they can be good citizens by using some of these positive traits every day. Suggest scenarios like helping feed the cat when a parent is tired after a long day or clearing the dishes without being asked.
The Conflict Ladder offers some building blocks that children can be taught to help them learn to deal with the inevitable conflicts they'll experience throughout life. The skills include staying calm, listening to the other person, and getting ideas to solve the problem. Not only will you want to discuss these, but you'll also want to model them in your behavior.
- Photocopies of a ladder with six rungs
- Crayons or markers
In this character-building activity, you're going to use the concept of a ladder to teach children how to solve conflicts with others. Provide each child with a drawing of a ladder that has six rungs. As you go through each rung, the children will color it in with the color you state, and this will help them remember the concept of resolving conflict. Tell children they must climb the rungs in order, because if they skip one, they might slip and fall back into conflict.
- Blue: The color blue stands for calm. Take some deep breaths to overcome your anger and stay calm when you have a conflict with someone else.
- Red: The color red stands for stop. Stop and take a minute to listen to what the other person is saying. Repeat what they've said back to them to make sure you really understand the problem.
- Yellow: The color yellow stands for caution. Proceed carefully and use "I" statements so you don't accuse the other person. For example, instead of saying, "You're mean!" say, "I feel like I'm being treated unfairly." Put the focus on you and or your feelings.
- Red: Use red again because you need to remember to stop and listen after you've made your "I" statement. Let the other person respond. Some conflicts are due to misunderstandings. For example, your friend might say, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. This is what I meant."
- Green: Green stands for "go!" Go and get other people to help you solve the problem. Gathering ideas from others usually results in a resolution of the problem.
- Blue: Blue again to remind you to stay calm, even if the resolution isn't what you wanted or you are unable to solve the conflict.
Character Building Topics for Kids
Character development games for kids include many topics, ideas, and age-appropriate phrases. Build lessons and activities around topics such as:
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Civic duty
Simple Character Development Activities
Common word games and activities can easily be adapted to include these character development traits and topics. Start with these examples, then create your own character-building twist on a classic game.
- Guess Who - Play Guess Who by describing the traits of a person in a common civil servant job, such as a police officer, and have kids guess who you're talking about.
- Traveling Together- Set up a basic team-building exercise by challenging small groups of kids to get from one location to another using only a few materials like hula hoops. Discuss the different topics/traits they displayed while working together.
- Strengths I Spy- Take the classic game I Spy and give it a twist by having kids take turns naming off all the strengths of one person in the room while others try to guess who the mystery person is.
- Blindfolded Obstacles - Set up objects on the ground, such as string, pillows, shoes, or whatever you can find. Then, pair groups into teams of two. have one teammate wear a blindfold and have the other give them instructions on how to get through the obstacles without seeing them, to practice trust and leadership.
- All Hands on Deck - Place a step stool, flat piece of wood, or a piece of paper on the floor. Make sure it is small enough so each person in the group could only fit one foot on it. Then, have the group practice problem solving and teamwork by figuring out how to have all members standing on the stool at the same time without touching the ground.
- Tug of War - Find a rope and split your group into two teams. Have the members work together to find their unique strengths against their opponents, and use problem-solving strategies to manage their weaknesses.
- Cross the Road - Use two platforms and a long piece of wood that can be used as a road between them. Have all members of the group stand on one platform, and then instruct them to find a way to cross to the other side. The team must come together to help each member cross and use problem-solving strategies.
- Card Connection - Give each member of the group a card from a deck and have them stick it to their forehead without looking at it. Tell the group that the goal of the game is to partner up with a person with the highest value card. After, discuss how different card values felt and how they were treated differently than people with high-value cards.
- Gathering Rice - Spread out rice on a table and split the group members into teams. Assign each team an instrument to use in order to pick up the rice, such as tweezers, spoons, or cups. Tell them that they can only use their tool and not their hands and that whoever gathers the most rice wins. After, discuss fairness and how different tools made the game easier or more difficult to play.
- Red Light, Green Light - Have all members of the group line up at one point in the room. Then, select certain members to take a variety of steps forward, such as five steps for a few members, and ten steps for others. Play a game of red light, green light, and afterward discuss fairness and how members that took steps ahead had an unfair advantage.
- No Talking - Use a card deck and give each member of the group a card. Tell them to stick the card to their forehead without looking at it. Then, announce that no one can talk to cards of a certain color or number. You can change the number or color throughout the game to give others a chance to experience isolation. After, discuss how it made others feel when they were being rejected or ignored for their color/number.
- Two on One - Split up your group into threes, so that two people will be on the same team and one person will be competing against them. They can play a game of basketball, tag, collecting objects, or anything that would be easier for a two-person team to accomplish. Discuss perseverance and fairness after everyone has taken a turn being a one and two-person team.
- Words for Friends - Give your group a scenario about how their friend is feeling upset with themselves because they didn't do very well on a test, or lost the game-winning shot. Have your group write down a list of things they would say to their friend. Next, have them write down the thoughts they would have about themselves if they were in the situation. Talk about the differences between the lists and how it's important to have respect for ourselves and talk to ourselves the way one would a friend.
- Out on You - Have your team play a game of basketball, balloon volleyball, four square, or any game where a ball can go out of bounds. While the team plays, be the referee, and occasionally call the ball out on the wrong team. See if the members of the group practice honesty and good sportsmanship. After each play, discuss how members of both teams feel and react.
- Citizenship Bingo - Create a bingo-style card with elements such as citizenship, honesty, and fairness in the squares. See who can get five characteristics in a row and be named a model citizen. Have the winners give examples of the characteristics before they claim their prize.
- Talent Show and Tell - Have each member of your group think of a special talent they have, anything from playing soccer to painting. Then, allow each member of the group to showcase their talent in front of others. Discuss how everyone's talents are unique and help kids experience self-confidence.
- I Need You - Print out a coloring sheet and give one to each member of your group, along with a different item to work with, such as crayons, scissors, glue, etc. Tell them they need to figure out a way to color, cut, and glue their images. Discuss sharing, cooperation, and generosity as they swap tools to get the job done.
Activities Are Stepping Stones
These character-building activities will get you started in teaching children character values. However, keep in mind that learning good character is a lifelong process, especially learning how to deal with issues like conflict management and sticking to your principles in sticky situations. Start with the activities and continue to reinforce the concepts on a day-to-day basis, and eventually you'll see natural character development occur.