Building Character in Your Children

Recently I was talking with some parents who said they had just had a rough evening with their teenage children. Their kids were not afraid to push back against Mom and Dad, to question every single decision, to compare them with what they perceived their friends’ parents were doing, and to express how they feel about everything.

Oh, how that brought back memories. Our kids were the same during their adolescent years. To them we seemed like the strictest parents on earth!

Teens want their parents to know how hard their lives are and how miserable parents make it. They have little to no compassion on how difficult your job is, nor do they have any appreciation for how much you love them and desire the best for them.

Whether you have teens today or you will in a few short years, what makes parenting so frightening is the knowledge that our words, actions, and decisions will mold these living beings’ eternal souls! We will have the greatest influence on our children for good or bad.

This is especially true for those of us who are concerned with molding the character of our children, which is a long, slow, difficult process. And the victory is for the parents who persevere to the end, who don’t wilt under their middle schoolers’ or teens’ withering verbal attacks, who don’t make decisions out of fear but faith, and who understand the long journey is often difficult but worth it in the end.

Parents can’t change their children’s personalities, physical characteristics, mental capacity, or length of days, but you can shape their character. You have the privilege of cooperating with the Creator of the universe in uncovering, naming, and nurturing into bloom all the possibilities God planted in your children.

The power of naming

Once there was a boy. Orphaned at an early age, then adopted by his uncle and aunt who lived on a modest little farm in the Palancar Valley, his was an ordinary life. Like the nearby village children he spent much of his time outdoors helping on the farm, tending the garden, or caring for the animals.

In his mid-teens though, life changed unexpectedly and very dramatically for young Eragon. Chosen and called to become a warrior for his people, his initial response was retreat. He wasn’t worthy. After all, he had no parents, no lineage in the ruling class, no name of his own. Who would follow him?

But the call was unmistakable. Branded on the palm of his hand was the insignia and it wouldn’t wash off.

Eragon’s journey through four excellent novels by Christopher Paolini is a multi-layered story of growing up, both for this boy and for those who parented him along the way. Woven through the series is a supporting theme on the power of names.

As Eragon grew into his role as a leader, he became Eragon Shadeslayer to the people because he had saved them from the evil “shade.” Every time that name was spoken it reminded him of his responsibility to continue to protect.

If you have followed my blog at all you know we make much of the names of Jesus at Ever Thine Home. He has as many as 300 names, which tells us His person and character are not simple and one dimensional.

I wonder if we miss the benefit of being named by important character qualities? What if you began to occasionally call your son by a quality you see in his life, like James the Compassionate or name your daughter Susan the Brave?

Even if we don’t develop this practice in our modern world, this does highlight the importance of building character in our kids. More specifically, we ought to consider naming the character traits we seek to build into our children.

Our own character is also malleable

Character is an invisible collection of traits that informs our thinking, resulting in good healthy choices or bad unhealthy decisions. Character governs and guides each person’s moral and ethical choices in any given situation. Summarized simply, character is defined by a heart that beats for God or by a heart fluttering for self.

Hebrews 6:17 describes “the unchangeable character of His purpose” (Hebrews 6:17). God’s character is unchangeable. But ours is malleable.

This is great news for parents! Your character is still moldable, as is your child’s. You can still grow and develop, and your children can too! 

When I was in the thick of raising our six children, I faced an endless stream of sibling rivalry, strong wills, selfishness, resistance to instructions, and daily childishness. Unfortunately, this struggle often revealed a great lack of patience in my heart. Many times I had a desire to get even with these little people who constantly disrupted my plans and disordered my order. My children, I realized, had a way of exposing my own brokenness, my own character flaws. 

Then one day I found a verse that promised me something I needed badly. 2 Peter 1:3-4 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness … He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature …”  Those last two words stood out as if spotlighted. I knew a divine nature or divine character was what I needed because mine was anything but divine!

How could I model the kind of behavior I wanted them to imitate? As a good friend of ours said, “You can’t impart to your kids what you do not possess.”

I could instruct them all day long about being patient, but if my children saw and experienced an impatient and angry mother, that behavior is what they would adopt. That is who they would become.

By focusing your mind and heart on God’s Word, asking Him to change you, you too can become a partaker of His divine nature. Patience is a character quality of God’s and it can be yours. You can change bad habits and grow good habits so that your children are watching a parent you want them to emulate!

Character for parents and children is not just doing the right thing, but also doing the right thing in the right way. And that is why we need God’s help every single day!

Where character grows best

We all want to raise safe, happy children who become safe, happy adults. But God knows none of us will depend on Him if we don’t need Him, so He allows difficulty—not getting chosen for the team, the rejection of a friend, the pain of a broken bone—to remind us to talk to Him and trust Him with our lives. Character grows best in times of testing and hardship.

Walk with your child in those hard times and help him know how to respond in a way that pleases God instead of a selfish way. Encourage your children every time they choose His way. Call out and name the character qualities that are good, right, and pure.

In this world of enormous uncertainties children and their parents need stability. Choosing to follow His plan, teaching your child to be wise and not a fool, is the one way that will endure no matter what the future brings.

Here are 10 character qualities we sought to build into our children. This is part of a longer list that we kept adding to over the years. It is closely tied to the Ten Commandments and other instructions in the Bible:

  1. Love: To love God, love ourselves so as to care for His temple (our bodies), and to love others. 
  1. Respect: To respect God and His Word and respect other people, even those with whom we disagree, as those also are made in God’s image.
  1. Wisdom: To have discernment. To know who to trust or not trust, what to believe or not believe, how to act or respond appropriately in any given situation.
  1. Truth: To have integrity and honesty in speaking, writing, and creating without deception or manipulation. 
  1. Humility: Not to think more highly or lowly of oneself, but to live in light of the truth that God sees, hears all, and knows the depths of our hearts.
  1. Teachability: A willingness to learn and admit failures and mistakes throughout all of life.
  1. Faithful: To be dependable, hardworking, trustworthy. To be someone who keeps his word.
  1. Generosity: A willingness to serve with kindness, give of your life, your gifts, skills, and talents for the sake of the kingdom of God on earth.
  1. Gratitude: To practice thanksgiving as a way of life in good times and hard times, acknowledging it is God who orders our lives and circumstances, and He never makes mistakes
  2. Excellence: As a child of the king remembering who you belong to, who you represent, who your life must ultimately please, for to Him alone will you give an account one day.

Application

If you’re married, grab a few minutes with your spouse this week to talk about this issue. If you’re single, talk these through with a friend who can help hold you accountable to your parenting goals.

I’d encourage you to start your own list of character qualities you want to build in your kids. And make it practical. For instance, if you put “gratitude” on your list, how do you want them to express that? Do you want them to learn to write thank-you notes? To always say “thank you” verbally? To practice thanking God when they pray?

If you have trouble thinking of character qualities, think about qualities you saw in a teacher, your parents, or people you admire who are living wisely. What do you want to see replicated in your children?

Choose two character traits from your list and make a practical suggestion on how you might implement that in day-to-day living.

Identify and confess an area that you as a parent need character transformation. Pray and ask God to give you His divine nature more and more each day.

It helps to have a real list to look at to remind you what your parenting goals are. You may not fully execute all of them, but without goals you will accomplish far less. And be sure to save the list in a safe place and keep adding to it as you grow as a parent.

May God guide and bless your efforts to invest wisely in your children’s hearts!

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