Character Training
How to pass it on

How do you go about Character Training? First of all it is modelled – caught not taught.

“What you do speaks so loudly
that I cannot hear what you say.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Are you prepared to change your heart, your habits, in order to set the model that your children need to see? Okay, so we are not all perfect – we will fail, at times we will show them a terrible example of the very trait we are working on with them!

Acknowledge it, confess it, apologise for it, be humble and move on! This sets such an incredible example of forgiveness in and of itself (and other character traits) that the children will not lose respect for you but rather probably gain it.

Character is a choice – we need to let our children know this. They can choose to react or they can choose to show character. Our job is to give them the necessary tools to choose character.

Starting Character Training:
Since our family has started to study a character trait, generally once a month, I have noticed a change in the way I speak to my children. I believe this has been one of the greatest parenting tools I have come across.

I use these big words – attentiveness, cautiousness, initiative, dependability, and self-control – in talking to my children. Bit by bit they come to understand the meaning of these words as I go over and over and over it with them.

The character traits that pivotal and there for the first ones in our training are:

  1. Respect
  2. Obedience
  3. Self-control

As to which one comes first I haven’t been able to practically figure out. I no sooner think that in order to obey a child needs to respect or have self-control then I start to think no, due to the sin nature of a child he needs self-control before he decides to respect. Round and round I go. So I have come to the conclusion that these three are the top three, initial character traits that need to be seen in our children.

Character Training tools:

  1. Proactive Instruction – hopefully we can give some instruction on the trait we want our child to learn before a conflict arises.

    Use the words of Character traits, eg “Mummy wants you to pay attention now.” (Use the word “attention” or “be attentive”) Then comes a definition, “that means you need to look mummy in the eyes, and listen real hard to what I have to say.” This is teaching them the definition as you live your life, train as you go.

    Alternatively, especially with the older ones you can have a family meeting and discuss showing Attentiveness and what that looks like so that when you are in the situation you can prompt with a question such as “Are you being attentive?” and they already know the definitions so can assess their behaviour accordingly.Be a model - To teach our children we have to be modelling these traits. For example – do you want your child to be truthful? Does your child see you being totally honest in words and deeds? Towards your husband? Towards people on the phone? People you meet? Or are you telling half the story, with a slight slant? Chances are your children will pick up on your attitude to truthfulness and will mimic it.

  2. Talk about Character - Relate the character trait to everyday life.

    When you see a TV character the child is enjoying, just mention “Wasn’t it nice to see Wendy show some initiative when she saw Bob needed help?

    We can also see good character modelled in books. Talk about it. Maybe someone in the community displayed good character – talk about it – build them up as heroes. (Caution here – I don’t recommend pointing out negative choices with the people nearby as this challenges the children’s respect issues and they will see it sure enough without you the parent pointing it out!)

  3. Correct behaviour using the standard of Character – We can discuss our standard of character when we are needing to correct negative behaviour. Incorporating the expectation of character into your discussion with your children elevates the standard of character into the children’s minds instead of focusing on the wrong choice. The wrong choice needs to be dealt with but leave them with the understanding of character.

  4. Praise – when you see children making these right choices, in everyday, subtle, little ways, then we must praise them.

    Once again, we must use the words of character traits if we are to help the children connect their good choices as opposed to their bad choices. Instead of saying, “What a good girl!” we need to change our language to say, “Mummy is so proud of you for showing self control when your friend broke your toy. I know you must be really sad. Lets see if we can fix it now.” This praise shows the specific way that mummy saw her daughter show character. It will cement in that little girls head far more than a simple “good girl”.

    Keeping our eyes out for their good behaviour is often more exhausting that being aware of their bad behaviour. Their bad behaviour is often in our face and we WANT to deal with it. Time spent in praise is a much more efficient use of our training time with our children.

Character Training in your family takes focus. You need to focus on your self (to be growing in your own godly character) and you need to focus on your children. Character Training is not a school subject that is taught with text books. Character Training is relational and practical lessons of life that will stick with your children and help guide their actions.

Live life with your kids!

Read the next Character article:
Praise Character We need to give our children praise – not for their achievements but for the character that they display.

Or return to:
Character Training Main Page for more thoughts on Character Training being a part of your Disciple-ing your children.

Character opportunities every day Continue to explore Lifestyle ideas for Character training.