Character training is a part of giving our children the skills they need to live a relational and intentional life. I define character as the quality of our responses to people and circumstances. Character is what we call the actions we take based on our values. I certainly want my children to not only know what virtues to value, but I want them to know how to live that out so we have intentionally taught our children character based responses to life.
We all know that our children watch and copy everything we do, and never more so than in our character driven actions. Our kids will observe the times we speak snarkily, or tell a little white lie, or are constantly late for things – they know.
This is a very poignant quote for parents to remember:
What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
So before we teach our kids we have to look at our own life. Are you prepared to change your heart, your habits, your attitudes in order to set the model that your children need to see? Do you know the virtues you want to live by? Does your life line up with those values? Okay, so we are not all perfect – we will fail, at times we will show our kids a terrible example of the very trait we are working on with them!
When this happens (and it will) we need to acknowledge it, confess it, apologise for it, be humble and move on! This sets such an incredible example of forgiveness (which is a character trait of itself) that the children will not lose respect for you, but rather probably gain it. Because our children see our weaknesses and failings, they actually lose respect when we don’t ‘fess up and deal with it so we have nothing to lose when we are honest and open with them.
Where to start with Character Training
When our children were school age we would generally study one character trait a month. By focusing on one trait a month it gave us time to process information and gain understanding – it takes time for knowledge to move from our head, to our heart and then out to our hands – that is character training. It is more than head knowledge, more than information and we need to give ourselves, and our kids, time to take hold of the information and make it something we choose to live by. We need time to change habits and to let this particular character based response become the way we react to people or circumstances. If we just jump from learning about one trait to another it is simply head knowledge and won’t make any impact on our kids heart or choices.
Though I don’t think it really matters what trait you start with I can see that these three are the foundation for relationships and learning so they are a good place to start.
As to which one comes first, I haven’t been able to figure it 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 taught to our children – in whatever order.
Choosing what trait to study
I see two situations for the study of character – proactive and reactive.
The proactive is the time we sit down to planned lessons where we put information into our children’s heart as well as give them an opportunity to make character based decisions in their every day lives. For this course of study I tend to follow the order of the Character First Education* Series, which starts with Attentiveness. Though other material starts with Love or even list their material alphabetically, so I don’t really think it matters. Going with the order Character First Education series means one less decision for me to make as well as the fact that I only need to buy one binder at a time.
As I mentioned there is also a reactive side to character education. This is when our children have heart issues. We often address their choices from a character perspective. For this reactive situation I still use my Character First resources; I identify the missing character trait in the individual child and teach that.
Training Tools for Teaching Character
Teach from your heart
Though I have used the Character First materials to help me understand character traits that I want to teach, the lessons that have made the biggest impact have been the lessons that I taught from my heart – not from a book. For this to happen, I had to spend time reading, pondering, and working on growing my own character before I taught my kids.
Use Character words
We don’t use character based words these days in our every day language. We tend to gloss over choices and say – you are a good girl. What does good mean? It probably meant that she showed patience, or helpfulness, or diligence. Use the word of the character trait that you mean – especially when you teach what it actually means. Don’t just say – be attentive! Instead say: “You need to be attentive right now, that means, you need to look mummy in the eyes and listen real heard to what I have to say.” See how the expected action is included with using the big word so the kids learn what the definition and action look like in their life. We need to use words of character (words that define and explain what attitude or action we want) in our instructions, in our reminders, corrections and praise.
Find examples in every day life
Relate the character trait to every day life. Talk to your kids about character choices you’ve had to make in your day. Talk about community folk who have made good character based choices – talk about the consequences of poor choices (be careful not to slip into gossip here). One safe way to talk about the negative consequences of poor character choices is to use movie, TV or book characters. When they make a good choice – talk about them as heroes, but when they make poor choices these fictional characters make great conversation starters which will help our children understand the place of character in their own life.
Character is a choice
We need to let our kids know that living a life of character is a personal choice. If we look again at my definition of character – it is the quality of our response to people or circumstances. We can choose to respond out of kindness or meanness, we can choose to obey or not obey, we can choose to be responsible or be lazy. The choice is ours and the choice is our kids as well. I teach my kids: you can choose your actions, but you cannot choose the consequences of those actions. There are consequences to poor choices and we need to be careful not to shield our children from them.
Teaching Character is a Life Skill and More
When we teach our children character based choices and the values that make them the right actions we are giving our children not only a life skill but we are shaping their hearts. What we believe (which is what is in our heart) shapes our choices. So when we teach values and the actions that come from these values we are shaping their hearts and I believe this will have an impact on their life far beyond childhood.
Do you know the values you want to live your life by and pass onto your children? This is a foundational question if you are going to intentionally teach character in your family.
*Character First Education: Sign up for a Basic Access Account (free account) for access to several free samples.
I have no affiliation with Character First – I have used and appreciated their resources and as such will continue to share their links.
Over to you
Do you intentionally teach character? If so, what has been the biggest benefit to your family?
If not, is there something that stops you from doing this? Love to help you get started.
Don’t get Stuck on the top 3 Character Traits: It is easy to get caught up teaching only a few common character traits but all traits work with each other to express our value system.
4 Stages of Training: These 4 training stages helps us to teach our children rather than just tell them. Without these 4 stages we are likely to frustrate our children.
Character and Habits: Character training / habit forming is there a difference probably not. Probably when rubber hits the road we are talking about one in the same but .
10 Character Traits for a Homeschool Mum (or any Mum Really!) Character is the quality of our response to people and circumstances. Here is a list of 10 choice responses to the people and situations a mother finds herself in.