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DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET WHAT IS GOOD CHARACTER? Of course children learn and develop cognitively and physically during their first years, but they also clearly and steadily develop in the social-emotional realm. For example, infant smiling begins at around four to six weeks, typically sparked by positive interactions with the significant people around them. Parents and caregivers of infants know very well the joy of seeing those early smiles and the fun of using tickling, baby talk, and facial expressions to encourage their frequent occurrence. It is within the context of infants earliest social-emotional developments—learning to experience, manage, and understand emotions and then relate to and interact with others—that character begins to form. Character Develops through Interactions Beginning at birth, interactions are the medium for all character development. Young children are shaped and influenced in fundamental ways by the quality of interactions they experience with the key adults in their lives. For example, when infants are treated with patience and gentleness by caregivers, they begin to absorb and instinctively appreciate those qualities in human interactions. When infants cry and their needs are met, they begin to build a foundation of trust in their caregivers. The ability to trust others helps build positive connections and supports their instinct to then be trustworthy themselves in the future. Long before children can cognitively understand or describe the qualities of good char- acter, they can intuitively and emotionally sense and appreciate the feelings as- sociated with those qualities. Although parents and other family members in the home are the major influ- ence on children’s character development, all caregivers and teachers who interact with them can make a difference. Caregivers can support an infant’s character development by meeting her needs for cuddling, feeding, diapering, and social interaction in consistently loving and respectful ways during the span of time the infant is in their care. Likewise, caregivers can support a toddler’s and a two-year- old’s character development through rich conversations and play, role modeling, and consistently respectful treatment. Caregivers and parents are encouraged to realize their potential to guide young children in character development right from the start. We don’t have to wait until children can speak, read, or understand sophisticated intellectual con- cepts to begin teaching character. There are endless opportunities to teach and support the development of good character in very young children. Clearly the best approach for doing so is by setting a good example. When children see their significant adults exhibiting positive character traits, they internalize those traits COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 5