Character: A Different Kind of Fitness

There is a lot of emphasis on being fit and living a healthy life—something important for all. However, many of the messages bombarding today's girls are focused solely on what they look like. Being healthy and fit inside are just as important as eating right and exercising. How do you teach what is intrinsic in Girl Scouting—tolerance, respect, empathy, and kindness? Emphasize character-building, one of the tenets of Girl Scouts. It is not as overwhelming as you may think.

Here are five tips to teach girls to tune in to their internal compasses and become who they want to be.

Set the Example

As a volunteer, you play a critical role in creating a welcoming environment for all. An inclusive setting allows the girls to "see" tolerance in action. Girl Scouts is a diverse place—much like the world young people live in. The girls will look to you for guidance and mirror your attitude and actions in and out of Girl Scouting.

Keep It Real

Girls need a frame of reference for negotiating challenges. Share your experiences. Explain some of your challenges and the rewards you've gained by taking the high ground. Let the girls know that listening to their inner voices is not always easy, and may require discipline. At the end of the day, they can feel great that they negotiated life's challenges and did the right thing. It's cool to be someone's friend in private, but does that friendship go underground when other girls are judging, teasing, or saying negative things?

Learn From Experience

If you asked the girls what you would be remembered for, what would they say? If you asked them what is important to you, what you stand for, would they know? Do they know what your deal breakers are?

Provide opportunities for girls to make decisions about who they want to become. Let the girls learn from their own experiences. Frame questions so they decide how to remedy a situation. Character is learned. Explain to the girls how their actions will affect others. Barring any dangerous situation that would require your intervention, let each girl decide what is important to her. You can be her sounding board if the need arises—that's being an invaluable resource for girls.

Kindness Is Key

Research by psychologists Elizabeth Midlarsky and James Bryan found that "explaining to a child the specific ways her acts of kindness benefit others nurtures kindness" (Building Moral Intelligence, by Michele Borba, Ed.D.). Look for the kindly behaviors that naturally occur in all girls. Acknowledge them when they occur and help girls apply these behaviors to other life situations.