You’re getting your child’s classroom syllabus for all the benchmarks he’ll be required to know over the next months for science, math, art, and history. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what you needed to teach him for knowing God better?
Dennis and I made a list of 50 qualities we hoped to teach our children before they left home at 18. We worked on our list over many years and in the end didn’t accomplish all of them. But having a list of values, a vision for what we believed was crucial, kept us more focused on what mattered most.
Consider this post a parent curriculum … your teaching syllabus with one lesson plan tucked in to get you started. The course goal is to answer the question, How will you be your child’s primary influencer?
Dennis and I will never forget that incredible moment when our daughter Ashley was born. The doctor cleaned her up and handed her to us. Dennis said he wanted to blurt out, “Thanks for the gift, but where are the instructions?”
When we started this journey, we had a few ideas of what it meant to be a parent and raise children. We also had lots of idealistic resolutions about what we’d never do! In conversations short and long we talked randomly about what we hoped for: children who respected authority, who knew the value of work, and kids who were kind to others, especially those considered unlovable.
As a way to capture the hopes and vision we had for our children, we began to write our desires on paper. We knew releasing godly, mature children who could stand on their own at 18 would take intentionality from us.
Modeling was crucial, but so was instruction, as Solomon wrote to his son, “Listen my son to your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8).
Raising children requires huge chunks of time, prayer, discipline, involvement, and relationship-building. To make the most of all of this parenting love, effort, and privilege, it’s best to know where you’re headed.
Here’s our list of the 50 character traits we wanted to teach our children. It is presented here pretty much as it appears on a now-tattered 8.5 x 11 piece of yellowed notebook paper. It’s not fancy, but it is a glimpse into our God-focused values for our kids.
At the at the end of the list, I’ll give you a practical way or two to begin to teach a few of these concepts to your children.
- Above all, fear God.
- Respect authority—trust and obey your parents.
- The importance of friendships.
- Be in love with Christ and focus on your relationship with Him, not just on doctrine or on biblical principles.
- Have compassion for the poor and orphans.
- Believe God for too much rather than too little.
- Real strength is found in serving, not in being served.
- The power of moral purity and a clean conscience.
- How to motivate people without manipulating them.
- How to handle failure.
- Keep your promises.
- The power of the tongue for good or evil.
- Give too much rather than too little.
- The importance of manners and common courtesies.
- View life through God’s agenda—the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) and the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).
- Give thanks to God in all things.
- The importance of prayer.
- The art of asking good questions and carrying on good conversation.
- How to grow as a Christian.
- How to handle temptation.
- By faith, trust Christ as your Savior and Lord, and share with others how to become a Christian.
- Seek wisdom—skill in everyday living. Knowing how to make good decisions.
- Gain a sense of God’s direction and destiny for your life.
- Stay teachable and do not become cynical.
- Obtain godly counsel.
- The importance of flexibility and adaptability to cope in life.
- Truth is best passed on through relationships.
- Leave a legacy of holiness.
- Keep life manageable. Prioritize decisions.
- Tame selfishness—you can’t always get your way.
- Choices are yours to make and results are yours to experience.
- Respect the dignity of other people—all people.
- Be faithful in the little things.
- Character is the basis of all leadership.
- Life isn’t fair—don’t compare with or be jealous of others.
- Live by commitments, not by feelings.
- Express grace and forgiveness.
- A strong work ethic.
- Surrender to the authority of Christ.
- How to handle your finances.
- Major in the majors, not in the minors.
- The principle of remembrance: milestones and landmarks.
- Importance of accountability or the deadly nature of isolation.
- How to motivate people without manipulating them.
- The importance saying no often to keep life manageable.
- Respect the dignity of all people.
- How to lead and how to follow.
- Mediocrity is a reproach against God.
- Assume nothing and regularly inspect critical areas in your life.
- Love conquers all—better to be kind than to be right.
Does the list feel overwhelming? It did to me too. It would have helped if Dennis and I had taken the time to synthesize the list, edit it down to the essence, or prioritize the top 10 or even 20. But we were too busy keeping our family afloat to fine-tune this list. Still it was a reminder of our goal and that was its purpose: to keep us going in the right direction.
One of the most important of these for us was #37: Express grace and forgiveness. It’s a value that can be taught to children from ages 2 to 18.
Dennis and I had learned in our marriage the importance of naming our offenses when we hurt one another and then asking for specific forgiveness. So we taught our children the same.
As soon as they could talk and purposefully hurt a sibling, we coached our children to repeat after us: “I’m sorry I [hit you … took your toy … etc.]. Will you forgive me?” We then coached the offended sibling to say sincerely: “I forgive you for [hitting me … taking my toy…].” Then we made them hug each other.
No parent can change a child’s heart, but we can train our children in the right way to resolve conflict and pray for God’s heart-changing power to work in them. This quality was a must for us because relational conflict will be with all of us for life. Helping our children be specific and name their sin sets them on the pathway to understanding their need of a Savior and establishing healthy relationships.
This lesson on forgiveness was one we repeated thousands of times, and sometimes the lesson got complicated. When one of our sons was about 10, he took his brother’s prized penny from his penny collection. Our first challenge was to confirm that he in fact stole the penny and not someone else, because he denied being the thief. Then we had to deal with his lying about it. Then we had to teach restitution after he’d finally confessed, apologized, and asked for forgiveness. Clearly this instruction elevated to more than “repeat after me.” And it took hours of our time one evening to get the facts and teach the lessons.
Relentless is a good word to describe the work of parenting. Too often parents give up or let situations like this one with our son slide by because they are too tired to deal with it. We understand. We felt the same way most every day.
But if you choose to ignore these offences you are missing crucial teaching opportunities God is giving you. And you are undermining another key value, the fear of God. If your child believes he can get away with sin, there is little reason for your child to avoid it. If you don’t pursue the truth and hold her accountable for her actions, all motivation for doing good evaporates.
No, we didn’t perfectly teach each and every one of these lessons to our kids, but we were committed to being intentional about reinforcing these qualities every time we had the opportunity. For 28 years we never stopped training, teaching, and cheering our children on. As Galatians 6:9 tells us, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
How about writing your own list? What character qualities and values do you want to teach your children before they leave home?
In our book, The Art of Parenting, Dennis and I write more about the process of writing your own list of values to teach your children. This will make a huge difference in your marriage and in your parenting. If you take the time to create a unified list of values, you will be operating literally off the set of blueprints And nothing is more important for kids than unified parents. If you are a single mom this will be easier for you but especially important because you need their help and working with them as a team for the good of your family will instill great character qualities that will last a lifetime.