Monday, November 3, 2008

You Mean All that Character Training Eventually Pays Off? by Kim Stilwell

Eagerly holding his number in his hand, my son was waited in barely contained excitement. As the woman by the table read off numbers, he anxiously waited to see if his number would be called. We were at the annual ice cream social given by my husband’s place of employment. Each year they give prizes to the employees’ children. Each child is given a number and then the numbers are called and the prizes are given to those children.

Suddenly, number 160 was called! My son beamed and went up to get his prize. It was a great big inflatable rabbit! However, before he could get to the table to claim his prize, a little girl, just as excited as my son, went up and claimed it. My son looked at me in disbelief and then showed his number to the person in charge. Upon investigation, it was discovered, that the little girl had made a mistake. Her number was 166 and she had thought it had been her number that was called. With trembling lips and tears in her eyes, the little girl handed the bunny to my son. Then I heard my son say, “She can have it.” I stared at him in disbelief, and then my heart flooded with joy! Like many children, this was a child who has struggled all of his life with “my rights” and putting himself above others. Now, he was offering to give his coveted prize to someone to whom it did not rightfully belong. The little girl smiled and thanked my son.

That was one of those moments in parenting when one feels like everything has been worth it. All those years of constant character training finally pay off! Obviously, first and foremost, the Holy Spirit was working in his heart that day. However, I would like to think that the years of working with him and teaching him that kindness and putting others first is more God honoring than demanding one’s rights had a little bit to do with it.

By far, the hardest task in parenting is training our children in Godly character. At one time in my life, I had a nine year old and four children under age six. It was all I could do to get through the day. If I managed to put three meals on the table, get a load of laundry done and homeschool the older two children, I felt that I had accomplished a great deal. Life was overwhelming. It was much easier to separate two squabbling children than to help them learn to work things out. I admit that sometimes I did just that. However, ultimately, helping my children learn to act in a way that is pleasing to the Lord needed to come first. It was more important even than laundry, their education and even more important than eating.

At our home, we try hard to work on character training. Does that mean that my children always behave perfectly? No, far from it. However, their mom has many character flaws to work on, too! Working on building a godly character in our children and ourselves is a life-long process.
Here are some ways my husband and I work on character training in our home:

1) The first and most important way is to focus on Scripture. Teaching our children the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) and I Corinthians 13:4-7 (patient, kind, not jealous, not boastful, not insisting on one’s own way, not irritable, not resentful, not rejoicing in wrong, bearing all thing, enduring all things) are two very good places to start. One key verse at our house, that we repeated every night before bed for years, was Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind, one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Proverbs is a gold mine for character building. Each evening before dinner, my husband reads a verse in Proverbs and expounds upon it to the children.

2) I often ask myself if my motives are pure. Why do I want my children to portray Godly character? Is it so that they will not embarrass me in public? Is it so that I can make homeschooling look good? It is to make myself look good? Or is my motive to help my children become more like Christ and to honor and glorify Him? Likewise, we try to instill in our children that their motive for good behavior should be to bring honor and glory to the Lord, not to bring glory to themselves.

3) We have family devotions four or five nights a week. Jeff reads a Bible story to the children and discusses with them how they can apply what we have read. We also read a chapter in the Bible together each evening. Jeff is very good at bringing the Bible to their level and helping them understand how they can apply the Biblical principles to their own lives.

4) This is the toughest one. One of the best ways we can teach our children to have a character that is pleasing to the Lord is to “practice what we preach.” Can I tell my daughter that she can not take her “grumpy feelings” out on the rest of the family when I am moody? Can I tell my son he needs to be honest if I fudge the truth from time to time? Can I tell my children how important it is to spend time in the Word when they never see me crack open a Bible between church services?

5) I love books and read a lot to my children. Right now, we are reading three books, one at breakfast and two at lunch. I also often read the children a bedtime story. That does not count all the reading I do in science and history for my child who struggles in school. Often, I am literally hoarse by the end of the day because of all the reading I have done that day. I try to have at least one of the books that I am reading to the children be a character building book. Some of our favorites are:

Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends
Wisdom and the Millers
Boyhood and Beyond
Beautiful Girlhood
Bright Lights sets
I Kissed Dating Goodbye
Do Hard Things
Missionary Biographies
Biographies of people who have overcome great difficulty

I have read most of these books to all of our children but some of these books are for older children and only my oldest son has read them, but I intend to have all my children read (or I will read the books to them) at some point.

6) We try to talk to our children about Godly character during non-confrontational times. If we only talk to them when they “blow it,” they may learn to resent “character building.” However, if we talk about it at other times, too, they are often more receptive and will open up their hearts to us. We often bring up character traits such as respect, modesty, kindness, diligence and others in casual conversation. It is amazing how open and transparent the children will become when they do not feel threatened by the conversation.

7) Proverbs says to give honor where honor is due. When our children do demonstrate godly character, we should let them know how pleased we are Not only that, but also how much they pleased our Savior at the same time. When my son gave up his prize to the little girl who did not truly win it, I later, privately, gave him a big hug and told him how pleased I was and how pleased the Lord was by his actions. He grinned and I knew that the encouragement would lead him to make other similar decisions in the future.

8) There are certain character traits we have been working on for years! It feels like we have been working with one child on laziness pretty much since birth. Another child, who hates having anyone upset, struggles with a desire to please people over God. If I am honest, I know that there are certain sins that I have struggled with my entire life. However, the fact that we will never achieve perfection on this earth is not a reason to give up. We should always have a desire to learn and to grow. We should also desire to become more like Christ with each passing year. The same is true for our children.

9) This is much easier to write than to do, but we, as parents, especially moms, need to be careful not to jump in and “protect” our children every time someone wrongs them. Obviously, it is our job to protect them and we should protect them from bullies, predators and peers that will lead them astray, as well as other dangers in life. However, if we rush to defend our child every single time someone wrongs them, we are harming them in the long run. We are teaching them to have a “woe is me” attitude. All our lives there will be people who say unkind things, rub us the wrong way, continually put us down and even lie about us. Our children need to learn to handle these situations from a biblical perspective. Instead of interfering every time someone crosses them, we need to help them learn to deal with the “problem person” in the way God would want them to do. Obviously, there are times when parents should interfere, but only in situations where our children cannot handle the situation themselves.

10) Character should always come first. No matter how late we are running in our school day, I always try to remind myself that ten years from now, twenty years from now, it will not really matter if we completed every subject in school with every child that day. However, if I allow my child to get away with telling a lie or mistreating a sibling, it certainly will matter years down the road.

Does the fact that we work hard to instill Godly character traits in our children mean that we have perfect children? Do they always behave in a godly manner, get along beautifully with each other, never embarrass us in public and are always mannerly and polite? Has a Sunday School teacher never approached us about our child’s misbehavior? If you know my family at all, you know the answer!

However, as the years go by, we are reaping the rewards of character training. When I see my son going out of his way to speak to the younger or shy boys at church, I know that our lessons on reaching out to others are paying off. When I see my children defer to each other in a matter, I realize that all those years of helping them work through their differences (and the three times of reading through “Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends”), are paying off. When I see our son who struggles with anger, make a conscious effort to stop himself from responding that way, I know the years of helping him learn to control his temper are paying off. When I see my daughter offer a cookie to the neighbor girl who yelled at her an hour ago, I know the years of teaching the children to return good for evil, are paying off.

One word of caution; when we see our children grow in Godly character and behave better than other children behave, it is easy to become prideful. (On the other hand, our children humble us occasionally by letting their sinful natures show at the worst possible moment!) Perhaps some of you have met parents who have very well behaved children and they know it and make sure everyone else knows it. We should never compare our children to other families. If our “fall short”, we feel discouraged. If they come off looking better than other children, we become prideful. The only standard we should ever compare our children to is to God’s Word. In light of that, there will always be character work to do, both in our children and in ourselves!

May God bless you as you strive to raise Godly children for His glory.