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Title: How To Build Character in Our Children

Category: Positive Parenting


Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V



      Why do we need to build character in our children?  We live in a world today which is fast paced and places emphasis on power, material things and immediate gratification. We don't see a lot of emphasis in society on good character traits.  Peer pressure as our children grow older will be awesome.  The best defense against drugs, promiscuous sex, disease, emotional suffering and a breakdown in the family is a good character, built from the inside  out.  This must start in infancy and proceed throughout our children's time at home with us.  Should we actually plan to build our children's character?  Absolutely!  The Bible teaches us that we are to instruct our children from the time we rise in the morning, and as we walk outside during the day to the time we reside at night.  We are commissioned as parents to train up our children in the way they need to go and to give them the teachings they need to carry on in life.  Among all the things we teach our children to survive in today's world, the most important are good character traits.  Good character traits will carry our children through the ups and downs of their lives, the pressures, the hard knocks, the temporary failings, the sad times, the suffering, the disappointments.  Good character traits will allow them to overcome all of these hurdles and to live the life that God wants them to live and the happy, fulfilled life that they are capable of.  Yes, we as parents must decide to teach our children character traits and most important of all to live those character traits in our own lives as an example and guide for them to follow. 

      When I think back on the character traits my parents taught me, many specific traits come to mind.  My dad taught me the value of goal setting, hard work, service to others, humility and joy through his beautiful example.  He taught me to overcome the adversity of polio and not feel sorry for myself.  When I limped as a child, he would squeeze my hand to remind me to point my toe straight.  He always encouraged me to join any team and try to participate.  He believed in me so much that I knew I could do anything at which I tried hard enough.  When I became self-centered or conceited, he brought me on rounds to witness a child with a burned face who was just trying to survive to remind me how self-centered I was and how stupid conceit is.   He never had to say a word.  His teaching came through loud and clear. 

      My mother taught me many of the same traits, particularly setting goals, working a little bit harder and going the extra mile in order to do well in school.  She taught me through her beautiful example of her loving nature, the value of losing your self in service to others and finding true happiness.  She taught me empathy for those around me who had physical, mental or emotional suffering and needed prayer and a tender loving hand.  She did all this through her own example as well as some great "one on one" discussions even when I was young.  She pointed out people whom she admired who became mentors and inspirational guides.  Most of all she loved me unconditionally as she loves everyone.  She knows and taught me the most wonderful character trait in the world which is love. 

      My mother's mother, Julie Garland Halphen, was another mentor who taught me humility, unselfishness, generosity, self- sacrifice and a loving heart through her powerful example.  She spent most of her adult life serving others in her humble home and always had a helping hand out for anyone who needed it.  She helped raise three generations of families in her greater extended family and made her warm and loving home a place where all of us grandchildren loved to go.  She never worried about herself, she never complained and she never "put on airs".  She humbly loved everyone she could including her retarded son whom she bathed, shaved, fed with a spoon, and took loving care of for almost 40 years in her home.  What a powerful example of strong character traits she displayed.  She is certainly one of the most unforgettable characters I have ever known.  All of this and I never heard her raise her voice once in the 35 years that I was blessed to know and love her.

      When I reflect on how these three individuals - my mother, father and grandmother - taught me character traits directly and through their loving example, I realize how very important it is that all parents live the kind of life we want our children to grow to.  We are all human and will certainly fall short many times, but if we strive for good character traits as a top priority in our own life we will give our children the greatest gift we can give.

      There is nothing material or otherwise that can replace the admiration our children will have for us if we live that life of good character and strive in doing so to train up our children in the way they should go.  Certainly when they grow old they will not part from it.



       Throughout our children's growing up time, they will observe us for examples of how to live.  The best way we can build a healthy character in our children is to display a healthy character in our own lifestyle.  If we display a consistent lifestyle of honesty, responsibility, humility, unselfishness, service to others, compassion, and a loving nature, our children will try there best to model these worthy characteristics.  Throughout their lives our children will come back to the basic value system they saw their parents live.  They may be tempted in many directions, but they will feel guilty in abandoning those values when they know their parents worked so hard to live them and expected the same of their children.  There is no room for hypocrisy in this system.  Our children will do what they see us do, not what they hear us say. 

      The values we live by will be obvious to our children.  If we are wrapped up in materialism and stepping over the other guy to try to get ahead our children will certainly not hold to a high standard of fair play in trying to achieve there own goals.  On the other hand if we always try to reach out to others in need and try to live a life of service, losing ourselves in our service to others, our children will follow that example as well.  The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit of God gives several gifts and these, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, are certainly gifts which are worth trying to model to our children.  These gifts are peace, love, discernment, happiness, joy, faith and hope.

      Parents must teach their children correct morals by living them.  A parent running around on their spouse, or openly flirting with their friend's spouse, is certainly not teaching their child fidelity in marriage.  On the other hand a devoted spouse who is affectionate, affirming, and proud to show his or her love for their spouse provides a secure home for their child.  This teaches their child invaluable lessons on marital relationships and the necessary character to work through the differences present in all marriages.

      Our children in today's society will be bombarded with temptations to smoke, drink, take drugs, experiment with sex, and dozens of other dangerous and hypnotic influences.  If we can set a clean example by controlling our own indulgences and letting our children know of our concerns of the dangers of all these activities while they are young they will be much more likely to say "no" when the temptation arises.  If we, however, smoke or drink to excess then no amount of preaching will stop our children from following our example. 

      Our attitude toward money and the world will say a lot to our children.  If we are more concerned with making money, showing off money, and having money than we are with experiencing happy times with our children. Giving money to good causes, such as our church or local charities, then our children will learn that material things only bring brief happiness. The joy of using money wisely to help those around you as well as to enjoy sharing the fruits of your labor with your family and friends would be a much better lesson for them.



        How many people have you brought to your table in your home in the last month, year, or even ten years?  Your table is like an altar and your food is like communion.  If we open our homes to our friends and those in need and share the blessings we receive in our life, our children will grow up sharing the fruits of their labor and truly fulfilling the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.  On the other hand, if we are so worried about perfection at the table and never invite anyone over because we don't want a mess or we don't want disorder in our home, what sort of message are we sending to our children? 

      How do we teach our children to stand by their word?  If we say we will do something, will we do it?  Our children are watching us all the time and we best do what we say if we want them to be responsible as well.  If we always promise to do things with our son or daughter and never follow through, we are not very credible.  Occasionally, work or emergencies will prevent us from following through.  We can still make up by apologizing and doing the activity at a later time. 

      How can we teach our children to be spiritual beings and not be wrapped up in themselves and the world?  The Bible teaches us that to be the greatest we must be the least; to enter Heaven we must die to ourself.  Do we live that way, working hard and striving on a day to day basis, through our prayer and efforts to make a difference in the world?  Do we help those around us through our career as well as through our family, through our free time or through extra mission type work?  Hopefully we are that type person and have a long career of serving others, whether by keeping a cleaner school yard, by being an honest plumber and providing great service to one's clients, by being an honest lawyer and representing one's clients fairly and with integrity or any other job or profession dedicated to helping people.  If we carry on our job this way, we speak volumes to our children about the importance of pride in our work and of leading a life of service.  As my mother has told me many, many times, "The secret to happiness is losing yourself in service to others."  She is so right and I am so fortunate to be in a profession such as pediatrics which allows me to do that every day.  Do your children see you serving others in your career and in your free time?  If they do, you won't have to worry about telling them how to be a person of character.  They will model your example and grow into it automatically.   



      One method of helping to build character in our children is the Ben Franklin method.  Benjamin Franklin decided at a young age to build up his own character so that he could be successful and effective in his young life.  He chose 13 virtues and worked on one each week and then recycled the 13 four times each year.  The virtues included:

1) faith or faithfulness,

2) orderliness, 

3) self discipline,  

4) happiness, 

5) perseverance, 

6) honesty, 

7) thoughtfulness, 

  8) efficiency, 

9) responsibility, 

10) respect/ courage, 

11) enthusiasm, 12) humility, and 

13) peacefulness.  

These are worthy virtues and character traits to encourage our children to build up and there are innumerable ways of helping our children to focus on them.  One of the best ways is to use stories from books and magazines as well as the Bible to illustrate these virtues.  Singing to and with our children is a great way to teach our children character traits starting in infancy.  Reading the Bible ourselves and learning specific verses and stories to back up our philosophy and the reason we believe in these character traits is helpful.  These are just 13 character traits worth striving for.

      There are numerous other character traits and each parent can creatively design a plan unique to the needs of each child in building them up.  The traits can include all of the following list as well as others.  It's worth trying to teach our children to be:

accepting, adaptable, affectionate, appreciative, careful, cheerful, clean, communicative, compassionate, conscientious, confident, considerate, content, courageous, creative, dependable, disciplined, efficient, empathetic, enthusiastic, faithful, flexible, forgiving, friendly, generous, gracious, happy, helpful, honest, hopeful, humble, independent, industrious, joyful, kind, loving, modest, neat, obedient, optimistic, orderly, patient, peaceful, persevering, poised, polite, prayerful, prompt, refined, respectful, reverent, satisfied, secure, self-controlled, self-reliant, self-restrained, self-sacrificing, sensitive, submissive, sympathetic, tender, thankful, thorough, thoughtful, thrifty, tolerant, trusting, understanding, unselfish, and zealous.

      Of all these qualities probably the most important one is love.  If we can develop a loving heart ourself and live a life of service to others with our number one character trait, being love, then our children will want to follow that example.  Of all the things I pray for my children, the most important is that they grow up with a strong character trait of being loving individuals.  I would much rather them be known for a loving heart than for their academic or athletic achievements.        As our children grow, the way we emphasize their day to day accomplishments will send them an important message.  Are we concerned about how they look for beauty contests or how they do in sports or what kind of grades they make more so than whether they play fair, whether they care about their team members, or whether they are honest in school?  If so, we are giving our children the wrong message.  Society will certainly tell them that money, looks and athletic ability is all that counts.  We, however, must teach them that finding a mission in life to pour one's talents into and serving others with a loving heart and a peaceful nature is far greater than any form of worldly recognition. 



        One excellent and fun way to build character in our children is to sing to and with your child.  I am so glad that my wife and I sang to all three of our children from the time they were infants.  Now that they are older they enjoy singing as a family while we are driving and singing together around the piano or with a guitar on a regular basis.  There are so many great religious and secular songs which express character traits.  Our brain is like a programmable computer.  The more we pour in positive input the more the message gets registered.  The flip side of this, however, is that we have to be careful what music our children do listen to and as in controlling TV we should control certain types of harmful music.  Particularly for young children be leery of MTV because of it's violence and it's demeaning nature to women and unhealthy attitude toward sexuality.  Also, listen to words of the songs your children are listening to on the radio and on tapes and records.  If you disagree with the songs strongly, let your children know and decide which songs you feel you should limit.  We have done this with our children and they accept our reasoning and, at least as far as we know, do not listen to them or play those particular songs.  As your child grows older you will not be able to control the music they listen to very effectively so it's important that you lay down the ground work while they are still young.

      Another way to build character in our children starting at a young age is to read stories to them.  Parables and stories which teach morals are ideal.  As they grow older reading the Bible and guiding them to follow its teachings will help to strengthen the importance of these character values in their mind.

      Read a lot to your child at a young age and make it a regular habit no matter how old they get.  They will miss sitting in bed with you listening to great stories when they finally reach the teen years and start breaking the apron strings and begin stepping out into their independence. 

      Story telling is another great way of teaching values and morals.   These can be made up on the spot or can be extracted from Bible stories that we know in our head and put into our own words or stories from any other source which teach the point we are trying to illustrate.

      Praying with our children about their daily needs and also teaching them to pray openly to God and to pray for others in need is a great character builder in their lives.  Do they see you praying on your knees regularly?

      There is no greater reference for character traits than the Bible itself.  Read it yourself as a parent and live it.  Through your example your children will follow and will be much more likely to grow up with most of the character traits that you desire for them.  

    Character building is a life long process which starts in infancy and doesn't stop even in adulthood.  Give it your best effort and don't be ashamed to get down on your knees and pray for your children on a regular basis.  Our Heavenly Father is always with us in our parenting and will surely answer our sincere prayers with the help that we need.

            Ultimately, character is built by God and not by parents.  If we can help our children to love, serve, and turn their life over to God, their beautiful character will unfold.