Developing Good Character in Children
Good character consists of knowing the good, desiring the good, and doing the good—habits of the mind, habits of the heart, and habits of action. All three are necessary for leading a moral life; all three make up moral maturity. When we think about the kind of character we want for our children, it’s clear that we want them to be able to judge what is right, care deeply about what is right, and then do what they believe to be right—even in the face of pressure from without and temptation from within.
Since our children grow up to be their own persons, free to choose their own path, we can’t be sure what long-range impact our moral teaching will have. But when we begin early to teach the values we cherish, and when we do so over many years, our potential influence, I believe, is very great indeed.
Even if our children don’t fully understand what we tell them when we tell them, our words may have lasting value nonetheless. They may echo in our children’s minds in years to come. And as they look back through the lens of a more mature stage of development, our words may take on new and deeper meaning. As a parent, I find hope and comfort in that possibility.
So talk to your children about what you believe.
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
If you continue to hold your child accountable over a period of time, the habit he is trying to develop will become ingrained in him. He will no longer need to be reminded, but he will carry out the habit naturally without much thought.
There are a lot of habits I would like to see my children develop, like making their beds when first rising in the morning, saying please and thank you, drinking lots of water throughout the day. Those habits don’t really have any impact on their relationship with the Lord, but they do make a difference. I also want them to develop habits that please the Lord, like tithing cheerfully, attending church regularly, and praying daily.
I challenge you to examine your children. … Discover what lifelong habits you want your children to have and cultivate them. They won’t develop a good habit by being nagged into it, but by constant encouragement. … If we give our children nothing else in life but a love for the Lord Jesus Christ and strong character, we will have succeeded as parents. Character will get him a job. Character will get him up in the morning when he would rather not get up. Character will hold his marriage together someday. If we as parents build strong, godly character traits into our children, they will have the potential to bring about powerful change in our country in the future.
These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Before we had children of our own, my husband and I found ourselves teaching a class in a Learning Center with another couple. For two and a half hours each Sunday, we were responsible for about 50 energetic six-, seven-, and eight-year-olds while their parents attended the church service and fellowship hour. At the beginning of each week, we met for dinner with the other couple to plan our lessons and design complementary activities. These sessions sometimes lasted more than three hours, since we had to formulate goals and objectives, prepare teaching agendas, and create evaluation techniques.
Several years of mothering transpired before I realized that my life revealed a huge dichotomy. When I had been in charge of training someone else’s children, I spared no amount of time or effort. However, I put very little planning or preparation time into the teaching and transforming of my own kids.
Without realizing it, I had developed the attitude, “If I can just hang in there long enough, my job will eventually be over—by default if nothing else!” … “Somehow,” I reasoned, “they’ll inevitably make it to adulthood. Someway they’ll mature and make a contribution to society. Someday I will have completed my task.”
But when I took the time to notice, I realized that the “somehow, someway, someday” attitude I had maintained was not working in our society. … Too many children are wandering around (or sitting around kicking the bark off stumps with their heels like mine did) without a clue as to where they are headed in life, because mothers like me have never pointed them in any direction. We can’t just hang in there, hoping that somehow, someway, someday our kids will succeed. We need to start taking our child-raising assignment more seriously—making it our top priority. In order to do this, we need to take time to set character goals for our children.
- What five characteristics do I want to distinguish my child’s life by the time he leaves home?
- How am I going to steer my child toward one of these goals today?
—Gwendolyn Mitchell Diaz
Take [your children] by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.
Discipline means training your children—training them to lead a disciplined life, and eventually to discipline themselves. If discipline is something that you only do “to” children, the end result could very well be that as soon as they get out from under your control, they go wild. But if you discipline them in the sense that you teach them and train them to lead disciplined lives, then the end result is that eventually they’re able to discipline themselves for the most part.
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