Building Strong Character In Children

Words by Charlotte Hansford

02 December 2020


Christine Ma-Lau of Hong Kong’s JEMS Character Academy speaks with Quintessentially Education on how to best instil confidence in children.

Bestowing a sense of confidence is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child. Instilling it from a young age will help them enormously in their later life; there are many opportunities for parents to help build their child’s sense of self, character and confidence.

Christine Ma-Lau created JEMS Character Academy in Hong Kong with this sensibility in mind, executing her passion for educating young people in character and values. Recognising the importance of building children’s self-esteem from an early age, she believes as Martin Luther King Jr so aptly said that ‘intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.’

Christine spoke with Quintessentially Education earlier this month about the academy and what parents can do at home to help inspire greater confidence within their children.`

Quintessentially Education: Can you tell us about JEMS Character Academy?

Christine Ma-Lau: JEMS Character Academy was founded in 2009 with the vision of seeing each child as a Junior Excellent Member of Society (JEMS). JEMS is an English-speaking, after-school education centre based in Hong Kong, focusing on Character Education for children up to age 12.

QE: What does the curriculum focus on at JEMS?

CML: JEMS came about through the belief that great leaders contribute to society not only with their intelligence but also with strong character and values; JEMS focuses on building character as a foundation and raising leaders as such. These character values include responsibility, perseverance, empathy, compassion, respect and much more.

QE: How can parents help their child to be confident?

CML: Confidence stems first and foremost from understanding that each child is unique. Sometimes, as parents, we want to fit our children in a specific mould that we think is best; however, this can often stifle them from being confident because it doesn’t help them identify or grow in their uniqueness. At JEMS, we believe that each child is individual; we have to determine what sets them apart to help develop them into the best that they can be. This is essentially from where we believe confidence originates.

One thing we can help our children understand is that there isn’t one form of intelligence or one particular mould that would make them confident. One particular theory that I like was introduced by Professor Howard Gardner from Harvard, who speaks to multiple intelligences. Traditionally, we thought that IQ was the only form of intelligence – for example, if children performed well on school tests or had quick reasoning, then they were intelligent, which would eventually lead to confidence.

However, Professor Gardner’s theory instead talks about the concept of multiple intelligences and how everyone is intelligent, but in different ways. Some might express intelligence through words or numbers, or visual or creative avenues such as art, nature, music or even interpersonal relationships and self-intelligence. People, relationships and self-intelligence, in particular, typically are under-recognised. If you are apt at understanding yourself and other people through empathy or intuition, for example, this will take you quite far in life – but not within a traditional school system.

Recognising this can help a child understand that ‘smart’ isn’t just being able to read and write words – there are so many different types of intelligence; each should be equally acknowledged and celebrated.

QE: How can we instil confidence in our children?

CML: Helping children understand that they are unique, and there are different types of intelligence is crucial to building upon their character. These character traits are by no means static; they will ebb and change with circumstance and as they grow. Confidence is the balance of knowing those traits, both strengths and weaknesses.

When you know your strengths, you can develop them further, working on them to thrive. Knowing your weaknesses also identifies areas for improvement. Having a growth mindset means that we always want to improve and believe we can get better. As parents and educators, we should be helping children identify their individuality in knowing their strengths and their weaknesses.

We encourage parents to ask their children what their character strengths are – for example, are they generous, kind, patient, passionate? Then ask them what areas in your character could you work on? Perhaps they want to increase diligence and responsibility with schoolwork, or be more thoughtful and caring with their actions and words. Those are the areas we can focus on – when children have self-awareness of their strengths and weaknesses; they are neither conceited nor defeated – they become confident.

At JEMS, we believe that character is the foundation of all worthwhile success, and what stays with a person throughout. You can’t compare your character with other people – it’s something that is developed internally. We should spend our time nurturing and expanding it in our children to build their own confidence ultimately, and in turn, their happiness.

To enquire about JEMS or similar programs or professionals in your city, please contact Quintessentially’s Education experts.

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