Intentionally studying character has been one of the habits that has shaped our family. There are many different definitions but over the years I have come to pen my own – Character is the quality of the response we have to people and circumstances. So by teaching our kids character, we are teaching them life skills – skills to be able to respond to people and circumstances in ways that are consistent with their faith and value system.
There are two aspects of being intentional –
- Is that we know the direction we want to go.
- We know the steps we are going to take to get there
So often parents know they want their children to be patient, kind, obedient, they want them to serve others and work hard, they want them to put others first, and yet be confident to stand up for what is right. We want these things for our kids but do we take steps towards teaching them how to do those things? This is what character education, or character training is all about.
In our family we have used Character First as our main resource but there are others around too. We study the definitions of character as well as what that trait would look like. But lessons aren’t enough – all the lessons you can go through will not develop character in your life. Our lessons are simply information to help us understand what we are talking about.
Putting Character into Everyday Life
Real character is developed not by knowing what is right, but by living it. We must put our knowledge of what character looks like into practice in our every day life.
–I can teach my children five fantastic, exciting, hands on lessons about obedience. This will not make them obedient. It is as we live life together, it is as we take the understanding of obedience and start to put it into practice that we begin to see real character. It is as our children actually come when called, with a good attitude that we can say they are obedient. It is as they complete what we’ve asked them to do and do it without complaining that we can say they are obedient. Not until we put the lessons into regular practice can we say we have that character response in our life.
–I can teach my children the value of hospitality. Once again we can do great lessons on what it means to be a friend, about recognising the needs of others, about setting the table and using our manners and even about cooking fantastic food. If that is all we do we are not practicing hospitality – we do not have that character trait in our life. It is not until we actually have to share our stuff, it is not until we go without because we have given to someone else, it is not until we step outside and meet other people’s needs that we begin to grow in the character trait of hospitality.
–I can give my children all the head knowledge of determination: that they are not to give up, that they are to keep on trying. I can teach them about Edison and how many times he attempted to make the light bulb. But until I walk along side of my children in the things that they find hard, until they reach up and take my hand and try again, until they choose not to give up they won’t have the character trait of determination – it would just be head knowledge.
So it isn’t our lessons that develop character in our life, like I said, that is only information. Character is developed as we guard our reactions and respond in the right way. Character is developed by the choices that we make and each time we make a choice to respond like those lessons we took, that virtue is established a little bit stronger in our life and each time we make such a choice, each time we make a choice to respond out of love, to forgive, to be honest, to be punctual or orderly, each time we do that we are growing in character.
It takes Knowledge and Practice
This doesn’t by any means devalue the time we spend learning about character – it just means we need time to put it into practice. In fact knowledge and practice work together to form a habit.
I found that dealing with one character trait a month gave us time to move information from our head, to our hearts, and then to our hands so to speak. By taking a month we had enough time to not only learn about what living out a particular virtue looked like, but we found ways to make it a part of our life.
Because character is the quality of our response the best way to find application is by putting our kids in situations where they need to make that moral choice. We can contrive a situation – like if we are studying order, we can put aside a month to work on bedrooms – or we can simply highlight a everyday situation that would be improved should the kids choose that particular trait – for example, at chore time, a gentle reminder of what orderliness looks like and what choices they can make is a great first step of applying our lessons in orderliness.
The only way we can walk along side our children, teaching and encouraging them to make character based choices is for us to be learning and growing in these areas as well. Because character isn’t a knowledge subject, we cannot just give them the book and say – go learn how to live a life of good character! We must instead be prepared to change our own life and make choices ourselves based on what we are teaching the kids.
To live a life of character means consistently making choices based on our moral values – so much so that it becomes a habit, it becomes the way of living for each individual in our family.
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