What is a Virtue, and how do we instill GRACE: Gratitude, Respect, Attitude, Care and Empathy in our children?

At Little Shepherds’ Schoolhouse, we believe “Virtues” form the building blocks of our children’s character formation.  Whilst our children are in Little Shepherds’ Schoolhouse, we nurture them through experiences which give them the opportunity to acquire these virtues. Why the focus on Virtue?

Why the focus on Virtue?

A virtue is a trait, or quality, that is considered morally good. It is the habit, or disposition, to act, think and feel in certain ways, and over time, the practice of virtue can become natural, easy and delightful.

It doesn’t refer to more rules, religiosity, or being austere. Rather, practising the virtues help us achieve freedom from being overpowered by temptations and vices. Some might call it ethics as well. 

Everyone is born with a capacity for virtue and being a good moral person, but we need education and practice to attain such freedom, harmony, and balance of the virtuous, excellent human being.​
What is a Virtue, and how do we instill GRACE: Gratitude, Respect, Attitude, Care and Empathy in our children?

Virtues in Catholic Tradition

The Catechism has defined virtue as “habitual and firm disposition to do good” (CCC 1833). The virtues help us consistently do what is good and are therefore the building blocks for character and moral Christian living.

Catholic teachings recognise four cardinal virtues of prudence (wisdom), justice, fortitude (courage), and temperance (self-control). These are also known as human, natural, or moral virtues, and gained through human efforts, for the purpose of leading a good moral life. 

Then there are the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love (or also known as charity). These virtues are “theological” because Catholics believe they are gifts given by God at Baptism, and their purpose is to draw us back to God.

What is a Virtue, and how do we instill GRACE: Gratitude, Respect, Attitude, Care and Empathy in our children?

Little Shepherds’ Schoolhouse Core Values

At Little Shepherds’ Schoolhouse, our mission statement encompasses the statement, “To inspire love for learning and grow in virtues in harmony with self, the environment and society.” We grow in virtues by practising GRACE: Gratitude, Respect, Attitude, Care and Empathy:

  • Gratitude – To appreciate the efforts made by others
  • Respect – To show positive regard for all creation, accepting them as they are
  • Attitude – To act with prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice 
  • Care – To express love and concern for family, community and the world
  • Empathy – To discern and be thoughtful of the feelings of others

This might sound nice and easy but how do we actually grow in GRACE? Let’s delve further into this. A simple solution to get started, which many of us would probably find easier said than done, would be — teaching by example. Whatever virtue we are trying to foster in our child, be it patience, or self-control, children learn by emulating our first teachers, our parents in the home.


Do our family members practise gratitude, by saying “please” and “thank you”? Even when the adults are speaking casually with each other, do we sometimes forget about being courteous to each other? But our children are learning. Let’s start at home.

At home, are our kids having so many toys that they can’t even think of what they’d want for their next birthday? Too much of anything leaves children unable to be grateful, taking things for granted. Simply don’t lavish our children with too many toys.


Children must always be taught to respect authority. Even if we as a parent/adult dislike any authority, it should still be respected. 

Do we always let our children call the shots? Sometimes we allow our children to always choose where to eat, play. They have now become the bosses of the house. Don’t let this situation become too common – there can be times where children need to respect a parent’s choice as well.

Children also need consistent discipline. This doesn’t mean punishment. Sometimes we confuse discipline with punishment for every wrong thing done. Discipline is the setting of structure and boundary.  However if discipline is enforced in the home, once a rule is broken, a child naturally knows what to expect. All fear is not a bad thing – there is a fear that can represent respect. Isn’t fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10)


Attitude denotes behaviour, “to act” with prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. These are based on the four cardinal virtues of the Catholic tradition.

Expounding on these four cardinal virtues is the Disciple of Christ, Education in Virtue materials, which was developed by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, based on St. Thomas Aquinas’ teachings on the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Cardinal means ‘hinge on’.  Don’t we want our children to have a moral compass to hinge on?

These resources provide a framework that helps all ages understand how to live a more virtuous life. (View the Interactive Virtue Tree online). Branching out from the four cardinal virtues, there is an impressive array of virtues that we can work on:







It would be nice if we could pick one a week to act on! 


Expressing love and concern is not always intuitive for a child. Firstly, let’s start with hugs. Children need their parents’ hugs. Physical touch affects the development of children in ways we may not realise. It gives them an ability to connect and in turn helps them connect with others.

Do we care for others through acts of kindness or volunteer work? What is our reaction towards the elderly, sick, or less-abled? Do we teach our children to care? Try to factor in some activities throughout the year that will expand our children’s hearts for others and the wider community.

Sometimes it is our own doing that kids have become hermits with social media and high tech games. It is detrimental to their social skills, and ability to care for others. It’s also taking a toll on their physical well-being.


Empathy in children has the following characteristics, whereby a child can recognise feelings in themselves and others, name them, as well as regulate their own emotional responses.

We all know children can have their temperaments, but a child should not be able to control the emotional climate of the home, such that the whole house is held hostage! If a child maintains the temperaments, parents ought to maintain their own emotional responses too. Do not lose tempers, allow our children to have this moment in their own rooms without affecting the emotions of everyone else.

Parents too can help by respecting our children’s thoughts – we are not always right. Children need a safe shelter to share their feelings about anything as long as they are respectful. So communicate and be mindful of the words used.  If our children are always berated for sharing a negative feeling, soon they will learn to keep it hidden.

Practising Virtues is a Lifelong Practice

We hope this article will help encourage parents and families out there to practise the virtues for your families. Not only does it help the self, it helps our children to develop freedom and joy. Who wouldn’t want a loving, harmonious family life, and a joyful child?

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