On a recent survey, I asked you what topics you’d like to hear more of. More than 75% of you wanted to hear about how to teach good character to children. One mom put it so well when she said, “I want to know how to practically apply God’s word in today’s world.”
I’ve been thinking about various parents and children in the Bible. Some Godly parents had horrible children. Some horrible people had Godly children. Why?
I’ve been trying to figure out what the Bible says about how to train our children, and I’ve written about the methods we use in our own home. However, most of our seven children aren’t grown yet. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing things right.
Last night, I started thinking about ways that my Dad and Mom tried to instill character in my brother and me when we were children. These things had a lot of impact on my life.
First, as I look back, I remember that my parents had very clearly defined roles in our home. My mom quietly supported my Dad, finding out what he needed to do each day and then helping him. She acted the same way toward us kids. She would tell us what we needed to do, then she would softly remind us. I don’t remember hearing her raise her voice, although she would certainly raise an eyebrow or a finger in warning.
Like Samuel’s mother Hannah, or Moses’ mother Jochabed, I suspect that almost everything I learned from my mother was taught to me before I can even remember anything. This tells me the extreme importance of teaching my baby and toddler to obey, to listen (my mom called it “minding”), to hold her hand, to be kind to my brother, and to do good to others, especially to those in our local church (Galatians 6:10).
As I grew older, I have more memories of my father doing the character training in our home. He was both intentional and unintentional about it.
- He would read aloud from the Scriptures. We didn’t have family devotions daily, but we did it often enough that I understood that the Bible was of supreme importance to our family in our lives.
- He would sing spiritual songs and hymns (Colossians 3:16). (He also sang a lot of silly songs, like “Good morning to you…” and “Oh, it’s great to get up in the morning…”) One song he especially loved to sing was “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul.” These songs have stayed with me my entire life, reminding me of proper behavior as both his child and a child of my heavenly Father.
- He helped us learn memory verses. He was a stickler for this. I can remember many times at home when my dad would say, “Why, the Bible has a good verse about that. We should memorize it.” (We’d be groaning inside… I admit it!) However, his wisdom has been helpful to me, because the verses hidden in my heart have helped me not to sin against God (Psalm 119:11).
- He filled our home with godly entertainment. Back in the day, that meant we listened to a lot of Christian radio (like Children’s Bible Hour, Ranger Bill, and the Sugar Creek Gang). We also had a lot of Christian records (and 8-tracks and audio cassettes) filled with songs and stories. We only watched TV on very special occasions, like presidential inaugurations or the Olympics. He knew that bad company corrupts good character, so he was proactive and found us “good” company.
- He had fun with us. He was silly with us and would rough house with us. I think that’s important because we liked him, and we wanted to please him. His love for us helped us trust him. Before we had the inner character to please God for the sake of righteousness alone, we would try to please our dad. We hated to disappoint him.
- He loved our mom. My dad was always complimenting her and giving her little pecks on the cheek. In fact, he told her so often that she was pretty, our pet bird started squawking, “Mommy is a pretty bird.” Simple, I know, but when someone loves his wife (and she knows his worst faults), he can be depended on to love everyone else.
- He involved us in ministry. Yes, he was a pastor, and he intentionally took us along with him as he called on people, knocked on doors and gave out invitations to church events, and attended ministry meetings. My mother was also intentional about having us help fold bulletins and help prepare for children’s ministry by cutting out flannelgraph pictures and helping make song visuals. Whatever they were doing, we were expected to help. (We loved it, too!)
- He had long discussions with us. As I grew older and became a teenager, I remember hearing friends say they couldn’t talk to their parents. I began to realize how valuable my relationship with my parents was, in that they would allow me to question and wonder, then after hours of my rambling, they would gently point me to the answers God provided in His Word.
- He lived true religion before us (James 1:27). He did what he believed, and I really think that’s the key. His relationship with God was real, not fake, so we accepted what he said as truth.
I mention my dad in all this, not because my mom didn’t teach us also (because she did), but because they did it right. Dad was the kind and gentle boss in our house, so I strongly remember the things he taught us. That’s the way it should be.
So you’ve asked me how to teach character to children. Curriculum is helpful, I suppose, but only because it reminds us mothers that we need to have authentic, godly character in ourselves first. All the lessons on “responsibility” or “attentiveness” in the world won’t help unless we parents are consistently responsible and attentive to others, day in and day out.
How do we teach godly character? Live godly character.