Character lessons can become a part of everyday life.
As parents, grandparents and teachers, we love our kids. We want them to be happy, healthy and successful. We also want to help them build character.
Character is how a person shows their values. Values are courage, kindness, responsibility, humility, honesty, and generosity — to name a few. Each of these values become personal character traits when they’re practiced in everyday life.
Character building for kids doesn't happen by accident. Character development takes intentional input from adults and happens over time. Talking about what character traits you want your kids to develop is easy. But when it comes to teaching your children… they have short attention spans, they move fast, and they're just plain little.
I founded CBP to help you build character in your children. After raising two children, who now have children of their own — I've seen just how influential our everyday decisions are in building character. Here’s how to use their young age to your advantage.
Model & Discuss Character Traits
Young children learn through what they see. Modeling good character is a powerful way to build Christ-like character in your children. When you show that you value and love others by treating them with respect and kindness or serving your community, your kids see that loud and clear. When you show that you’re honest — even when it’s hard — your kids will learn integrity.
You can deepen the lesson by talking to your child about what you’re modeling. When your child is young, they’re absorbing so many new words — use this to your advantage by saying out loud your choices to them. Here’s an example:
“I’m sharing our food with our neighbor because I want to be generous. Generosity is important to our family and to God.”
Not only will they see what you do and why — they’ll experience the joy and fulfillment that comes from giving to others. This genuine enjoyment instills generosity as a deep-seeded value in your child.
Read & Pray About Character Development
Children also learn through stories. As you tell them stories or read picture storybooks to them, pause and ask character building questions, like:
- Why do you think the person in the story made that choice?
- Why is it important for them to do that?
- How do you think they feel about making that choice?
A wonderful place to look for stories is in the Bible. Stories like David and Goliath or Daniel in the lion’s den are compelling character building lessons. Talk about how those people honored God with their choices — and how we can, too.
Ask God for help building character in your kids. You can pray with them and encourage them to ask Him for courage, strength, humility and gentleness. Consider memorizing The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) or the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) with your family. These are compelling scriptures to pray over one another!
Practice Building Character in the Moment
A few weeks ago, I was on a morning walk with my daughter, Keilah, and her two young boys. As we slowed down to talk with Raùl (age 2), Mateo (age 4) sped ahead on his bike.
Mateo hit a bump in the asphalt, lost his balance and toppled over. We could see he wasn’t injured but was struggling to get back up.
Keilah saw an opportunity to have Raùl practice responsibility and helpfulness.
“Raùl, will you go help Mateo with his bike?”
Keilah and I watched as Raùl eagerly hopped off his bike to help his brother. As they both got ready to take off again, Mateo suddenly left his bike to hug Raùl.
Mateo was showing gratitude. I realized what a lovely, organic moment we had to discuss gratitude as a character trait.
“Mateo — are you thankful that Raùl helped you?” I asked. He nodded yes. “That feeling is gratitude! It was so sweet for you to show gratitude to Raùl, and so pleasing to Jesus that you had gratitude in your heart. It’s important that we recognize the things we’re thankful for — and it’s important to show that we’re thankful for them!”
The boys were beaming. Keilah and I used that open door to talk to the boys about things we’re grateful for and ways to show gratitude.
Try to find these open doors in your daily life. These little moments add up, but, practicing character in the moment isn’t always easy.
Using Discipline to Build Character
Sometimes character building lessons can be painful — like finishing a project or chore to learn perseverance. Often your discipline strategy can be character building as well. If your child was dishonest or did something to hurt someone else, use natural consequences as your discipline.
Make a short statement about what your family values because it honors God and what behavior you expect. Then, require your child to make the situation right again. Here are some examples:
“In our family, we value gentleness and respect for other people's bodies because it honors God. Was it right for you to hit your sister? What can you do to make it right?”
“In our family, we value honesty because it honors God. Was it right for you to hide your brother’s favorite toy from him, and then say you didn’t? What can you do to make it right?”
With your compassionate support, your child will eventually see the positive impact of their choices.
Tying It All Together
Building character in your kids can feel abstract. How do you actually teach someone to make good, moral choices?
It feels a lot simpler when you realize that children will learn biblical character traits through what you do, say and how you discipline. Building character is about everyday moments that stack up over time. When you model, discuss, read, pray and practice your values, your child will grow into a person of good moral character who reflects Jesus to the world.
How do you intentionally build character in your kids? Share your stories, suggestions, and questions with us on social media or by contacting us!