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Lessons that go beyond the classroom


For generations, parents have taught kids to keep their promises and say “I’m sorry.” How do these seemingly simple building blocks look today? Families across Kentucky shared these tips for teaching their children and teenagers about character.


Keep Your Promises

  1. Keep your first commitment. Don’t change your mind and rearrange others’ schedules when a better social offer comes along.
  2. Think about your answer. Don’t feel you have to say yes to every request. You have the right to weigh whether something fits your life. To say no, simply say, “Thanks so much for thinking of me. I can’t this time.”
  3. Set clear expectations and limitations. If you want to participate but fear having more responsibilities than your schedule allows, be honest about what you can and can’t do at the outset— then, do not take on work that is not yours.
  4. Stay organized in the classroom. Write down assignments, due dates, project details. Making yourself finish work (homework, music lesson practice, regular exercise/sports, and chores) before relaxing trains your brain to be self-disciplined.
  5. Ask for help. If you are struggling in a class or to complete commitments, ask others to pitch in. True success is not being able to do everything perfectly by yourself; success is figuring out how to reach a goal with as many people needed to accomplish the task well.
  6. Be honest about your limitations. With yourself: Say no to things you really do not have interest or time to pursue. You cannot do everything you want to do; making thoughtful choices is part of life. With others: If you fall behind, let people in charge know you might be late or incomplete in your job. You may think that makes you look weak, but it actually takes strength to communicate that well.


Say “I’m Sorry”

  1. Listen. When you’ve done something hurtful, ask the other person to explain how it affected her or made him feel. Listen to the explanation in full without interrupting, making excuses, blaming, or saying the explainer shouldn’t feel that way.
  2. Be specific. When you need to apologize, do so face-to-face or voice-to-voice if possible, not via text. Be specific about your misstep and recognize how it was hurtful to the other person. Make eye contact and say, “I’m sorry for ________. I know it made you feel ________.”
  3. Count the cost. Every time a person forgives another, it costs something. Even if your misstep costs someone only a small unmet expectation, don’t take its impact lightly. When possible, make restitution (repay). When that’s not possible, validate what another person’s gift of forgiveness means to them. Add to the apology above: “I would like to do __________ to try to make things right. I know that doesn’t erase my mistake, but I hope it will show that I care.”
  4. Ask for forgiveness. Adding, “Will you forgive me?” to a simple “I’m sorry” is powerful in reconnecting relationships. Some people think admitting their faults makes them feel bad about themselves, but keeping relationships healthy is a huge self-esteem booster. You don’t have to hide mistakes or make excuses. Knowing you can take responsibility for your behavior, even when it is wrong, is an important part of maturing.
  5. Never laugh at other people. At times, you may be caught off guard when someone is offended, but you don’t know what in their background may have caused that response. Try hard to be a compassionate and caring person even when you don’t understand, rather than be a judgmental and critical person. Find an adult to help a struggling classmate. You do not have to be the person to solve the problem, but do not add or let others add to the hurt and fears by participating in a group that ridicules people. You can never say “I’m sorry” enough for that.


Show Gratitude

  1. Say thank you—twice. Teachers, friends, and parents of your friends do not have to do the generous, kind things they do. Whether others spend time or money, or give expertise to benefit you or a group you belong to, think about where you’d be if they did not serve or give. So, say thank you, but then say thank you again.
  2. Be specific. When you say thank you, give a clear description of what the other person did and how it impacted you. People aren’t kind to win thanks, but few people say thank you—so when you do, make it good!
  3. Write a note. It takes time and effort to write a thank-you card, but it is the most polite response to someone’s kind act. Write notes to teachers and school staff, scholarship organizations, and people in your church or community who help you. Gratitude is a lifelong habit that helps you develop as a person by recognizing that you need others and that they have helped you get to a better place. As a side benefit, writing thank-you notes helps you stand out in job and school settings.
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