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 boy… She’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.
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?