Ever since our son, Jacob, was a baby, my wife and I have been teaching him how to demonstrate five qualities. We taught them in order—there is a sequence, milk before meat.
As Jacob developed one quality, we added the next.
It will take a lifetime to master this “handful” of qualities, but, although each child is different, a reasonable goal would be for each quality to be established by the age that matches the number of the quality. So a 1-year-old could certainly understand “Be gentle,” and a 2-year-old could understand “Be quiet.” Jacob’s younger brother, Ben, quickly got caught up to Jacob’s schedule and by 4 years old was reliably demonstrating all five qualities.
We find that the shorthand language of Gentle, Quiet, Happy, Curious, and Accountable enable teaching moments throughout the day. The five qualities are also broadly enough defined that it is easy to link them to some consequence or situation and to reinforce their benefit. The definitions become more sophisticated as the child matures: For example, Gentle grows from “Don’t hit” to “Avoid extremes of behavior or expression.”
One could argue that there are many more qualities a child needs to be successful—or that our “handful” doesn’t accurately define even the basic five. But for our children, these five qualities form the base to which they could add or refine however they choose to. As long as Jacob and Ben are Gentle, Quiet, Happy, Curious, and Accountable, we will consider them ready to become adults.