“Maintain good character”. I tell that to my daughter frequently, especially whenever she leaves to a friend’s house, the mall, or a school trip. It was the last words I said to her when we dropped her off for college at Biola University – and that time she actually nodded in approval instead of “the look” I usually got. It’s an accountability issue with her too, because I will often ask when she returns home for some examples of her good character.
How does she know what good character is? We have taught her. She didn’t just acquire it, because with a sinful nature in us all (we Christians know what that means) good character has to be taught. Dad, how are you doing at teaching good character?
Be intentional at teaching godly character. A house doesn’t just appear, it has to be built. Be sure to explain “why” a deed or comment or action is good character. Rules without reasons become obstacles, rules with reasons become habits. Here are some suggestions to build good character in your kids:
- Character is best taught through examples. Jesus demonstrated godly character. Read Bible passages about Jesus to your kids. I like book of Mark because it’s a rapid fire description of what Jesus did, said, and acted while here on earth. Mark interviewed people who were around Jesus and compiled these statements into a description of His life, so it’s good subject matter to read short passages to your kids, maybe before bed time, and discuss the character Jesus demonstrated. Use opportunities when with your kids to point out examples of good (and bad) character when watching TV or at the movies. Bring up the subject at the dinner table and give character examples from Joseph in Genesis 37-46, George Washington, General MacArthur, or Judas Iscariot, Gollum, or Bernie Madoff. Maybe discuss examples from school of good or bad character. That is one way to teach character, by pointing out good, and bad, character examples.
- Dad, you should always model good character. How are you doing in that? In situations around the house, at a restaurant, while driving (ouch!), or at a sporting event (oops!), what kind of character do your kids see? Do you open doors for strangers, or ask someone if they need help, do you hand the cashier a dollar when the customer in front of you is trying to count out pennies? Do you buy an extra burger at the drive-through and hand it to the homeless person on the corner? If you receive too much change, do you give it back? Do you always say please and thank you? Pay attention to the character your kids see in you, they want to be like you, they are like sponges and soak it all up!
- Attitude is an indication of character, so think of the attitude of each kid you have, and how that is a reflection of their character. How do you handle differing attitudes if you have more than one child? Do you chastise or discipline bad attitudes, and praise good attitudes? I would suggest that you come up with some specific lessons and rewards for the topic of character. My Father used to tell me: “Your true character comes out when no one is looking”. That is an important statement to instill in your kids.
- Practice. Remember character is something that has to be taught to kids, and they have to learn it, and work on it. Intentionally put your kids in a situation to practice, or test their good character. For example, walk with your kid near your neighbor who is raking his leaves…
Be careful how you portray character, however, and think carefully about how you teach it. For instance, I remember my Dad saying right before a spanking “Here comes the belt of character”, and another time, when I was told to clean the manure out of our barn “This job will teach you some character”. I don’t know how those helped me build character, and I probably learned the wrong meaning of the word, so be careful of that. I do know proper discipline and communicating the reasons why the child is being disciplined teaches good character. So ask God to give you wisdom in how you discipline and teach character to your kids. The next several posts will cover more ideas on how to teach good character.