During the presidency of Bill Clinton, a slogan was oft repeated: "character counts." Deep down we all know that one's character is not simply a "personal thing" but it affects his whole being and affects his work and every area of his life.
The importance of character training in our children is paramount. As parents, we cannot shirk our duty before God, for it states in Ephesians 6:4: "Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord." Our children need to be taught to develop a Christian relationship with Jesus Christ. Simultaneously, we need to teach them to love God with all their heart, all their soul, and all their mind, because this is the greatest and foremost commandment. I John says that if we love God, we keep his commandments.
There is no doubt that character training is a vital aspect of our home schooling. The Bible teaches us in Proverbs 22:15 that, "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child." In the book of Romans, it's made crystal clear that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Therefore, it is necessary to train our children diligently. This requires discipline and much repetition to instill in our children a proper godly character which will benefit them and those around them for their whole lives.
As a father of seven children, presently from the ages of 4 to 14, I've seen how essential strong character training is for our children's lives and for those around them. Here are ten practical tips that I have compiled that may help you build good character in your children.
1. Read and Teach the Bible
The laws of our country and the true moral laws throughout the world have their origin in the Word of God. By the Word of God we can learn the difference between right and wrong. Training our children to read and love the Word of God will be the single strongest ingredient to building good character.
In our family I have found that following and obeying Deuteronomy 6 is the best and most successful way to teach my children the Bible and good character. This passage states that we are to teach God's commandments and principles to our children all the time so that in verse 2, "they might fear the Lord" and keep his commandments. In verse 6 it states that these commandments must be "in our heart" and furthermore, we must "teach them diligently" to our children virtually all the time. The passage explains that we need to teach these principles to our children when we "sit in our house and when we walk by the way and when we lie down and when we rise up." We must also tie them to our foreheads and our wrists and write them on the doorposts of our house.
When I rise up, I spend time teaching each of my children individually the Word of God. Before I lie down, I have family devotions, where we corporately worship God and I train my children in his principles which are intricately involved in forming their permanent character and transforming their heart. As my wife and I go through each day, we train our children all along the way through homeschooling. On a regular basis I bring different children to work where I have opportunity to instill the Word of God to build their character as we commute and spend time together at the office. Also, we involve our children in the different tasks and errands that we run so we have more time to teach them when we "walk by the way."
We literally post the Word of God on our doorposts. On each entrance to each room is a small card with a calligraphy Bible verse so that the Word of God is before our children at all times. They see us not only teach them but live the Word and tell others about the Word as we carry it around with us in the form of Bibles and tracts in our pockets and purses.
Scripture says the Word will not return void. As you saturate your children with the Word of God, God will have his purpose done through the application and teaching of his Word. Scripture also says that He gives the increase. Our task is to plant and water, but ultimately, He is the guarantor of the results - we're just called to be faithful.
2. Create a "Chore Chart"
Another excellent way to build character is to create a "chore chart." We create a graph with each of our seven children's names and then a list of various chores for each day of the week. From age 4 to 14, they all have to participate in the tasks of keeping the household. This helps them develop a sense of responsibility and a habit for doing these tasks. As this habit forms, this will serve them lifelong.
It is amazing how small children who are only five or six years old can empty dishwashers, sweep floors, wipe off tables, clean their rooms, make their beds, clean up the playroom, and do various tasks throughout the day for their mom. We sometimes do not realize how capable our children are and we tend to want to do everything for them because we can do it faster and better. We need to put aside those thoughts and focus on the character that is forming early with our children and help them to be responsible at an early age. As the Scriptures say, as we're faithful in little things, God will give us greater responsibility. We need to slowly increase the responsibility with our children so that they're ever growing in their ability and desire to do good deeds.
3. Unplug the Television
If you truly want to instill good character in your children, turn off your television. In our modern times, the television has steadily slid into immorality and stupidity. A large portion of what we watch on television is a waste of time at best and damaging to our character and souls at worst. Unmonitored television is a character destroyer.
Ten years ago we unplugged the cable television and have never regretted it since. The amount of family time, spiritual growth, strong character and serving one another has increased and grown in a multitude of ways since we've shut off the television.
The only way that the television media can be used to build character is through careful selection by the parents of various videos and movies that have a clear lesson and that protect our children's minds and hearts from the worldliness in our culture. We can place at the feet of television much of the destruction of the moral fabric of our nation.
4. Teach Lessons from Hardships
Have your children observe and be aware of the difficulties and hardships that you and others around you face so that they will realize that this is part of life. It is terrible to see a child who has been shielded from all the hurts and suffering and persecution in the world to then personally face such problems as an adult and have his faith shattered. As my wife struggles with the incurable disease of ulcerative colitis and I with multiple sclerosis, we make sure our children understand that we still have joy. We explain that God gives and takes away and that we need to accept both good and ill from his hand, knowing that all things work together for good for those who love him and who are called according to his purpose. We emphasize an eternal perspective in our home so that our children realize that this earth is just a temporary place where they need to fulfill the mission that God has given them for their lives, but they can't be too attached to it. As our children form this eternal perspective, they can be honest, gentle, kind, faithful, have self control, and many of the fruits of the Spirit, regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in.
We also spend regular time explaining the suffering that the persecuted church is going through around the world so the children will realize that Christians do face many tribulations as the Scriptures say, but that God is with them and will comfort them, and will ultimately deliver them - if not in this world, then in Heaven for eternity where there will be no more tears and no more sorrows. I recommend Voice of the Martyrs newsletters (Bartlesville, Oklahoma, (918) 337-8015, http://www.persecution.com) as on of the best sources of information on the persecuted church. The ministry was established in 1967.
5. Read Biographies
Read biographies of Christians to your children. We have found that a book called Courageous Christians: Devotional Stories for Family Reading, (Moody Press; Chicago, IL, 2000), which has over 70 short stories of strong Christians of the past and present, is a wonderful and powerful tool for giving examples to our children of those who overcame. As we study the men and women of the past and present we explain all the many character traits that made these people what they were and how God was with them every step of the way and empowered them through difficult circumstances and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This "great cloud of witnesses" is an example to our children and gives them heroes and heroines to imitate as far as they in their lives imitated Jesus Christ.
6. Teach Proverbs
Another way to instill character in our children is to specifically teach the book of Proverbs. In Barbara Decker's book Proverbs for Parenting: A Topical Guide for Child Raising from the Book of Proverbs, the book of Proverbs is arranged according to subject matter. This is an excellent way to teach our children character traits of truthfulness, diligence, faithfulness, good business practice, service, love, courage, and virtually every important Godly character trait. If you are able to do nothing else on this list but teach your children Proverbs, you will build good character in their lives as they internalize these principles. Memorization and repetition is key in this process to burn these truths into our children's consciences so that if they grow up and turn away from God, the Word of God and Proverbs will be so ingrained in their hearts and minds that they'll turn back one day.
7. Mission Trips
Go with your children on a mission trip. There are many opportunities in our churches today for taking one to two week mission trips. This is an awesome way to have a hands-on experience in building character. It teaches our older children about the needs of the world. It helps them appreciate and be thankful for all the many blessings they have in the United States. These mission trips can be in the form of going to Mexico or some other poor country to minister in God's name in practical ways such as building, painting, cleaning, dispensing medicine, et cetera. Other mission trips can be your own family vacation where you take time to pass out tracts to those you meet and talk to them about the Lord. For your children to see your faith in action helps them to realize that your faith is real and the message of your teaching is real and practical.
We sent our daughter Bethany with some good friends from our church on a mission trip and she had her eyes opened with a new appreciation for the blessings that God has given her in her life. Most importantly, she has realized the incredible blessing of eternal life and she has developed a heart and desire to return to the mission field one day.
8. Bring Your Children to Work
As fathers, we have learned many of the important character traits to be good and faithful employees. Possibly we have started our own business. Either way, bringing our children to work is a tremendous opportunity to teach our children many character traits involved in being a faithful employee or good employer. Explaining to our children the many responsibilities in the workplace helps them to develop a vision for the future for themselves. It gives them purpose for the training that they're undergoing at the moment. They begin to realize the importance of math as they see its application in the field of engineering or carpentry or accounting. They begin to understand why their mom is so persistent in teaching them these concepts and this knowledge repeatedly. They have their eyes opened to what is necessary to provide for a family or for their own sustenance. They can develop a solid work ethic as they observe you and others in the workplace. Be sure to take time to point out what's around them so that your children can learn. When I take my children to the office they spend a certain amount of time doing their homeschooling but then I also explain to them what I'm doing and why and what others are doing around us.
Moms can bring the children to the store with her to help them understand and develop the character traits of frugality and wisdom to know what to buy and what to avoid. Moms can include their children in understanding what paying bills is all about and show them the need for filing and organizing. Children will develop a vision to be successful in this life.
9. Be Involved in Ministries
Assist neighbors and be involved with ministries. Youth have much time on their hands. They usually look for a good time. As a result, they don't redeem the time and waste much of it. An old adage says that "an idle mind is the devil's workplace." Keeping our children involved in serving and reaching out to others is an important way to keep them busy while building strong inner character traits.
Across the street we have a lady who has had deaths in her family and suffers from cancer. My children go over there periodically to minister to her and to bring her baked goods. A family needed help with painting and one of my daughters was able to assist in preparing the house for their move.
Having our children involved in Awana and Vacation Bible School to assist with the younger children has proven to be very valuable in teaching them to die to themselves and to give freely and without expectation of reward. No doubt you could think of a multitude of ministries and ways you can touch those within your reach. In the process, you'll be teaching your children how to truly love their neighbors.
10. One-on-On Training
Never forget the importance of individual one-on-one time in training your children and building up their character. You need to make sure you shepherd their hearts. Spend time asking them questions about how they feel about the tasks that are under their responsibility. Find out if they feel overwhelmed or bored. Discover their struggles and help them by applying the Word of God. Know your children so that you can determine if the character training is being internalized or is simply an external obedience. If it is simply external, as soon as they're out of the household the world will mold them and shape them into its image.
Homeschooling teaches what really matters. These character traits you instill in your children will be for their lifelong benefit and if they internalize them in the form of a relationship to Jesus Christ, where they want to glorify him in all that they say and do, this character training will carry into eternity so that they can be together with you in Heaven.
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