Teaching Your Child Character: Zest

by kate on January 25, 2021

Character teaching time. Today it’s all about zest! Zeal! Joie de vivre! OK, enough with the (!) exclamation points!

Let me back up and say this is all based on a character report card developed by KIPP’s and Riverdale Country School in New York City that I learned about from the New York Times. A revolutionary idea: a character report card!

First off, what is zest? It’s hard to quantify and define but it’s obvious when you see it, right? You just cannot ignore it - that sense of excitement, anticipation and energy. Life is an adventure! Carpe diem! (I cannot help myself!!!!)

Often people fold zest in with courage. Reportedly, people with zest tackle life head on which does take courage, no? They embrace the living of life. Not surprisingly, zest is usually found in people who lead “successful” lives.

A quick note: I’m going to use a few words like ‘successful’ and ‘happy’ that have myriad meanings. I know that. My definition of successful may look entirely different than yours. Just for shits and giggles, let all agree that successful and happy, in a broad sense, mean feeling fulfilled living the life you want to, need to, and enjoy living. It’s not about flourishing monetarily or socially. Shall we?

Ok, so back to zest. This, like all of the character strengths, are unteachable in the sense that you cannot outline what it is on a chalkboard and expect the definition to shine through. It doesn’t work that way.

Teaching your child about zest comes down to modeling it, pointing it out, simply recognizing it for (in?) your child. This might possibly be one of the hardest ones because, invariably, as we parents age we gain a heightened sense of danger in the world. Because of course we do! It is in our skin to protect our children.

Only that sometimes comes out as fear and fear is the antithesis of zest. Everything has a down side.

As I’ve been thinking how to talk about zest here I’ve honestly been kinda stumped. I mean, you can’t hear me yell, “it’s an umph (!) for living life” and see my hands slicing/jabbing the air like the old Cingular man - do you remember that guy?

So on to examples, because those you can hear/see. You tell me which one of these helps teach or instill zest:

Your kid rushes off to climbs rocks (not death defying rocks, just, you know, rocks), you:
A) warn, “careful! careful!” and hover
B) say nothing, then high-five him when he jumps down safely

Your daughter wants to join the soccer team, only you’ve seen her practice and you know she might not make the cut, you:
A) encourage her to try try try, give it her all
B) gently talk her out of it and “redirect” her efforts

The list can go on. My 2 year old started climbing into her chair for meals. She’ll bring the step stool over then hoist her body up. She’s fallen a few times, yes. But she loves doing it. Where before considering this ‘character” thing I would stop her and physically lifted her myself, now I’ve started saying “keep your body safe” and let her climb. I cringe. But I let her. And I hug her if she falls.

See, zest is hard! I honestly choose the fear motivated responses above instinctually because I want to protect my girls from (insert hurt here). Only I realize that projecting my issues onto their growing psyches is teaching them MY lessons, not THEIR lessons. And it robs them the sense of making their own decisions and recovering from falling. All that hurt I want to shield them from teaches them inner zest. If they can tackle life on their terms, then they just may continue doing that their whole lives.

Being adventurous is accepting that you may fail as much as you may succeed. And that’s scary.

I want to be clear and say I’m not advocating manufacturing ways your kid can experience hurts to make them stronger. I’m just saying that experiencing real hurt can be an excellent teacher.

And that’s what I want as a mom. I want my girls to go forth and conquer! Also, to be able to dust themselves off, vigor intact.

Next up: when the going gets tough, the tough get going…tune in next week.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ruby T. January 25, 2021 at 7:31 am

You said, “Only I realize that projecting my issues onto their growing psyches is teaching them MY lessons, not THEIR lessons. And it robs them the sense of making their own decisions and recovering from falling.”

Amen, sister! ^5! Such a smart statement, and being that self-aware will help your parenting style remain focused on your children, where it needs to be.

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