The Greatest Gift

If we give our children the gift of good character, we have equipped them to flourish when the conditions of life are favorable, and we have equipped them to thrive when the circumstances of life are adverse. With good character, children can grow regardless of their situation.

by Charles Debelak

First published in Westlake Neighbors magazine in May 2021. Charles Debelak is co-founder and head of Birchwood School of Hawken. He earned his Bachelor of Science from Valparaiso University and his Master of Education in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in gifted education from Cleveland State University. 

Looking back on nearly five decades of work with children and young adults, I would suggest the greatest gift we can give our children is good character. I say this for two reasons. First, the pace of change in our world continues to accelerate, and we have no reason to believe that pace will slow. It is becoming impossible to conceive of an education that would prepare our children for all contingencies. Second, we cannot foresee the unique environments our sons or daughters will inherit. There are too many variables in their future. We cannot control the possibilities of chance.

Good character, however, is the human capital our children can use to realize their potential and contribute to their world.

Good character is simply the collection of good habits which, collectively, constitute who we are in adulthood. These are habits of mind and habits of behavior. Most often, they are forged during the first 15 years of life. They constitute the attitudes, dispositions, and skills which lead toward a life of growing, thriving and flourishing regardless of circumstances.

As noted, it is impossible to foresee the challenges our children will face. How can we predict what opportunities for advancement and success they will meet? Or how can we anticipate the obstacles, trials, or frustrations that will befall them? No amount of planning, no prophetic foresight, can imagine the possibilities.

But if we give our children good character, we have equipped them to flourish when the conditions of life are favorable, and we have equipped them to thrive when the circumstances of life are adverse. With good character, children can grow regardless of their situation.  

We are able to give our children the gift of good character when we commit our own time and energy to help them forge good habits. In this labor, we teach and model the ethics of hard work and self-discipline. We show them how to practice kindness, understanding, and compassion toward every person who enters their life. When their world becomes complicated or confusing, we explore as partners what it means to “do the right thing.”  And we help them experience humility and gratitude as we acknowledge and honor the blessings in our lives.  


As recipients of this “greatest gift,” our children will join the company of great women and men throughout history who found possibilities to realize their potentials under the limitations or opportunities life presented. By means of good character we grow, thrive, and flourish lifelong.
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