Teaching Character Building To Young Children

Posted on Posted in Children

From the time children are born, we wonder who they will be one day.  We try to pick out characteristics from behaviors early in their lives:  Oh, what a sweet boyShe’s such a happy girl!

As they start to get a little older, we may start to identify behaviors we don’t want them to continue with.  Examples would be lying, taking things that aren’t theirs, yelling “No!” when told what to do, bickering with other siblings, etc.

Some parents (as well as non-parents) believe a child will “grow out of it.”  Some children do.  Some children don’t.  How will you be able to determine which will or won’t?  Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s too late by then if you were aiming for a different outcome.

While the starting age is different for each child, many Christians feel compelled (with good reason) to actively teach their children good character building skills. Whether we realize it or not, they are learning these things all on their own–probably from birth.

As a parent, or teacher, or Sunday School teacher who wishes to actively and structurally teach good character development, are you lost on where to start or how to start?

Here are some tips to help you prepare to take this task head-on during your lessons.


Practice what you preach

If you are a Sunday School teacher teaching a lesson about modesty and your students’ parents have to cover their eyes when they run into you on a Saturday night out, what are you really teaching them?

If you are a mother desperately trying to get your children to stop bickering and you nit-pick at your husband, what are you really teaching them?

Make it an effort to model the characteristic you are teaching.  This can take a bit of forethought.

Unfortunately, if you aren’t used to this or struggle in a particular behavioral area yourself (or maybe I’m the only one?) this can feel a bit “fake.”  Practice.  It will become more natural.

A good starting point?  Have skits where you set yourself up to be in a position to have to choose which characteristic to display–and make it one that’s realistic for you.  Model how you will handle this situation.

Of course, we are all sinners.  So that leads us to the next thing to do.


Pray for strength in the trait you are teaching for yourself

Are you teaching your (group of) children about taming their tongue yet you have the tendency to say what’s on your mind when you feel justified?  (Just me again?)

Not only will you seek to model this control, but you should be praying for assistance in this area as well.

I’ve got to be honest.  When I catch myself teaching any character building lessons, I have to pray for strength in every single area for my kids and myself.


Address the real reasons why we act a certain way

Teaching children that God makes rules that are to be obeyed is essentially teaching the Old Testament.

Teaching children that it’s okay when we mess up because of God’s grace and the grace we, as humans, should have on each other is essentially teaching the New Testament.

The real reasons we choose godly character is found in the marrying of these two.

We act why we do to show God’s love, to show His forgiveness, to show His grace, to show respect, and to learn humility (among other reasons).

In your journey to teach why we learn to act, respond, and love the way we do, we must be ever diligent to teach God’s reasons for godly character–not worldly reasons.


Try to be mentally alert not to use the world’s reasoning

The world is all around us.  We are saturated in it.  If you are like me, there are some worldly views that really sound good and really make sense until I actually put them up against God’s Word.  I for one, have fallen into both of the following situations more times than I care to admit:

I become aware that two children are both arguing over the same object/toy. I either say, “Okay, who had it first?” or “If you can’t work it out, then I will take it away from both of you.”

Aren’t these both plausible responses and solutions?  Not according to God’s Word (Matthew 5:40 and Luke 6:29).

It’s important to convey to children the false reasons we strive to develop certain character traits:

  • To earn our way to Jesus’ love or heaven.  To be “good enough.”  To please Jesus.
  • To please mommy and daddy.  To earn a parent’s love.
  • Because we are merely bound to obey God’s laws.

Entire religions are formed around trying to earn a spot in heaven.  This leads to not only a life of guilt, but a degrading view of mankind outside of a loved circle–since it’s apparently a competition.

The view that we must earn Jesus’ affection leads a person to religion–not a relationship.  Jesus doesn’t want religion and performance.  He wants brokenness that leads to pouring out of grace and the personal relationship that ensues.

A child should not be taught to obey to please Jesus, Mom, Dad or anyone else. We all fall short and sin.  This can also lead to a sense of not being good enough–or even worse–faking their way through life.

Four keys to teaching our young children about character development.

With these four focuses, teaching character building becomes less intimidating. When overwhelmed, grab a pen and paper and just start over, at the beginning. Define the why, why not, and most importantly ask Jesus for help, guidance and wisdom.


Are you working on character building with a group of kids?  What’s the hardest part for you?

41 thoughts on “Teaching Character Building To Young Children

  1. Oh, my word. You hit so many good points here, at the adults in children’s lives that needed to be said. We need to be aware of the behavior we model in our actions. Goods points to on spiritual teaching too.

  2. Love this!!!! I am a big believer in practice what you preach. It is so important. I also spend a lot of time praying for strength in the areas I need to grow and want my children to grow in.

  3. great article! we need to teach kids these things! one thing we always did was to teach our kids to own their mistakes. we didn’t require things to be perfect – far from it but gave them permission to come to us to discuss where they messed up – and had open discussion about how decision making.

  4. You have me looking up those verses regarding the situation when kids are fighting over a toy. I’ve totally used both the parental logic statements you listed and sometimes have the hardest time trying to get my kids to obey. Parenting is definitely a journey God created to make us more like Him…and much more patient too!

    1. You’ve nailed it April. Whenever I can’t possibly figure out how to handle a situation as a parent, I’m asking myself What would Jesus want me to do? And then when I still can’t figure it out, I ask myself, How would Jesus handle me in a similar situation?

  5. Practicing what we preach is the absolute beginning of wisdom as a parent. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen myself mirrored back at me and known which areas of sin I need to address. But, I’ve also had my daughter tell me that she wants to grow up to be a Godly woman like me.

  6. Teaching our children character is wonderful thing. Exemplifying those character traits just as important. Above all else showering our children with God’s grace and love. Understanding that our position is just as caretakers. Leaving the results up to God. Great reminder!

    1. Well this article is about when our role is as a teacher specifically 🙂 –unless the kids are your own and then you are caretaker and teacher. Thank you for your comment Jonathan.

  7. These are four really great areas of focus. I especially like practice what you preach and being mindful of wordly reasoning. Thanks!

  8. Thanks for your great ideas! I especially like the one about role playing situations with your children through skits. I plan to use lots of humor because it’s a great teaching tool, too!

    1. I love role playing Leslie, because all children learn so differently–I know how my children learn best, but with others’ children I feel role playing also lets me know where they are at.
      Thank you for your feedback.

  9. Practising what I preach would be the hardest mainly because the kids see me 24×7 at home and I can’t expect them to be patient if I’m not, right?

    1. Very good point Marina. They are always watching. And when the children you are teaching happen to be your own you definitely have to be on your A-game all the time!

  10. Another great post full of wisdom and ideas. Children are always watching us to see how we behave and react to situations. I find that it is good to to be repentive with our children when we fail. Thank you so much for sharing. Blessings

    1. Wise words here Friend. It is always important to be repentant with our children (both our biological children and the ones we teach outside our family). A whole other topic, but one that I believe many adults misunderstand.
      Thank you for sharing.

  11. I have two littles so consistent discipline is always a focus in our home. I think it’s so important to really get our own heart right before the Lord each day so that we can pour His love and grace into our kiddos, and keep our cool when trying to discipline them! 🙂

    1. Yes–that’s a good one that carries over not only for teachers, but for parents as well in all aspects of life–not just during lessons.
      Blessings Chari,

  12. I love the part about not using mental reasoning. This is something I have been praying about for my own children, so they do not see Jesus as another rule but a transforming relationship. Thank you so much for your insight 🙂 blessings, tiffany

    1. Paige, it’s got to be so hard as a teacher of young children (which is what this article is about). I admire all the work you do in your classroom, and I am glad to hear that it resonated with you as a parent as well. Thank you for your note.

  13. When I first started helping out with youth group our youth pastor emphasised the importance of modelling Godly behaviour. As youth leaders we were expected to be a role model for the youth in our care so we shouldn’t be out Saturday night getting drunk, dating non-Christians, etc.

    1. MB, it sounds like you totally understand the first example above under “Practice What You Preach.” Thank you for sharing your examples and how they parallel.

  14. I love this post so much, Deborah! 🙂 Recently, I heard a podcaster interview a mom, whose family motto was, “(Last name)’s love God, love people, and change the world.” I’ve started using this for my own family. When my little guy wants to know why he can’t hit his sister, I remind him that Ferguson’s love God and people. I want him to know that it’s important to our family to love others well, but I really need to add an aspect of grace into it to. Thank you so much for sharing your heart on this with us! You’ve given me lots to think about. 🙂

  15. This is a great post Farmer’s Wife; i am a new mother of a six month baby boy and really concerned about Character building. I am especially challenged to practice what i preach. Children are always watching and learning. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Love this! We believe that if you lay the foundation of character building when the kids are young it will help them build a stronger home as they grow!! 🙂

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