7 Critical Character Traits in Growing Children

Dan Davis January 31, 2013

What are the most critical traits for children to learn? As the world ‘s information continues to hurtle forward at an incredible rate, the ways that children are taught, both in structured and un-structered settings, will continue to change. We can all remember learning in several ways, whether at a desk, on the sports field, in a band, or away from home for the first time. While this is not a comprehensive list, it does help to distinguish particular characteristics that are valuable in childhood development, and are important no matter where you come from, or where you end up.

You will find the following list to be a helpful barometer for your child’s development. You may also rank these items high in the answer column to “Why Camp?”

Rockmont builds character.

That’s not a byline; it’s the truth. Camp is able to educate the whole person – nurturing from the roots up!


Our child psychologist friend, Bob Ditter, is a long-time champion of youth development and the specific ways the camp setting enhances that development. He has helped us identify these important character traits that we need to see grow within our children:


The “True Grit” mindset; the ability to hang in there, tough it out, persevere and recover from setback. This is a master trait that is deemed critical to success in life. Researchers Angela Duckworth and Christopher Peterson simply deem the trait “grit” and define it as: “Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure and adversity. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.” Across many different career fields, grit was regularly cited as a reason that star performers became successful, even more so than more “talented” individuals.

A Sense of Curiosity and Wonder

Our natural, inborn fascination with the world that makes us want to explore, learn and discover all we can about it. We need to encourage freedom from distraction if we are to keep this trait strong. Children are especially talented in finding wonder in the natural world. Nature shows us we are small parts of God’s plan, though beautifully made and cared for. Mountains, rivers, and oceans invite such curiosity because they are bigger than we can see with our eyes, and naturally lead to questions of wonder. Research backs this up, as the University of Michigan has demonstrated that, after just an hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans have been shown to improve by 20 percent!

Social Intelligence

i.e. “meaningful connection to others”
Team-player ability, our awareness of others, the ability to read other people’s emotions and connect with them in meaningful ways. Knowing when and how to negotiate, collaborate, and compromise are elements of social intelligence. We’ve all heard of the introvert and extrovert personalities, but there’s also a middle ground which demonstrates the highest levels of social intelligence. Wharton professor Adam Grant calls it the Ambivert mindset, because this personality type can best discern when to listen, when to respond, and when to take a stand. Camp is a great place to learn how to find the common ground with others through new relationships, guided by the counselors and directors.


An essential feeling of appreciation for what we have been given. Gratitude is central to a positive outlook on life, and we want to direct a child’s ultimate gratitude to God at every opportunity. Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at UC Davis, states that “Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude.” An attitude of gratitude must be cultivated though. And it should be modeled for children through effective role models. Dr. Emmons also states that gratitude is a “chosen attitude” which is willing to recognize and acknowledge when one is the recipient of an unearned benefit.


More than simply “being nice,” kindness involves giving of one’s self — something that is a sacrifice of your time, your effort, your true consideration. Something that we strive to teach at Rockmont is kindness without restriction, of sacrificing without any thought of reciprocation. We need to be careful that our own acts of kindness are not rooted in the hope of merely receiving kindness, but in the happiness of giving of ourself to others.


The ability to regulate one’s feelings and impulses; to recognize feelings and manage them, edit them, and not be run by them. This is also a master trait that is deemed critical to success in life. One way this is shown in development is the ability to delay short-term gratification for bigger long-term rewards. Another way of saying this is that people who exhibit self-control can see the big picture, and realize that the current emotion, whether bad or good, is not in the best interest of the individual or group as a whole.


The ability to see the positive opportunity in situations. Optimism is linked to self-confidence and a positive outlook on life. In fact, having a 3:1 positive to negative thought ratio is shown to broaden our ideas about possibilities, open our awareness to a wider range of thoughts… making us more receptive and creative; says UNC professor Barbara Fredrickson.

Clearly, we think these are important traits to see developed in our own children. We also have seen annual evidence of the role camp can play in nurturing each of these. If you have not seen the 6 minute animation play out on our home page, it is well worth your time. Click here to view. It will underscore why we do what we do at Rockmont.


Dan Davis

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