Teachers and parents talk about having good character, building character, and good character traits — but what does it all mean? Well, a person’s character is shown by how they act, think, and feel in life. Character isn't one thing; it's the sum of how someone usually interacts with others and how they treat themselves.
(Also see the 4 core values for good character and common decency written for adults.)
Someone with good character acts in line with good traits, which may also be called good values or good morals. We call them good values or morals because they are ways of acting that are good for our wellbeing—they help us to be healthy and they help people to get along well in life. (See What is Morality and where it comes from.) Sometimes we aren't sure how we should act so these good morals or values help us choose to do the right thing—like making choices that are honest, respectful, responsible, and caring—so that our actions are more helpful and less harmful. Someone with good character avoids behaviors society considers to be wrong, like lying, cheating, stealing, hurting other people on purpose, being careless about other people's wellbeing, and being disrespectful or unkind. A person with good character makes choices that are in line with ways of acting that help them to be healthy, and helps them have a positive impact on other people.
How can you tell if someone has good character? Character is the pattern of thoughts, acts, and feelings someone shows over time. Someone with good character believes they should make good choices and shows over time that they almost always make choices that are honest, respectful, fair, caring, and responsible. Making a mistake doesn’t mean you don’t have good character. Everyone makes mistakes and learns from them. But, when someone of good character makes a mistake, they take responsibility for it. They also show perseverance, which means they will make good choices and they’ll do the right thing, even when it’s hard.
Good character is often something a person builds over time. When you hear about "building good character" or a "character building moment", it means that you are facing a challenge and you need to look to your good values, make a good choice, and persevere (work through it even though it's hard). A moment when you have a difficulty to overcome can be a character building moment because it helps you prove to yourself that you can make a good choice that is in line with your values. All the character building moments in your life help you grow into a person with good character.
You break your mom’s vase.-- Someone with good character will tell the truth (even if they’re going to get in trouble) and shows caring by apologizing and trying to make the situation better.
A new kid comes to school and dresses differently.-- A person with good character will not tease or be unkind. A person with good character will show caring and respect even when someone is different.
You have a test tomorrow. You know it’s important to study and do your best in school. You really would rather watch a new TV show you’ve been waiting for, but if you watch it, you won’t have time to study. A person with good character acts responsibly and finishes their work.