Character Education – intentionally teaching our children about character has been such an integral part of raising our children.
How do you define Character?
My definitions are:
Character choices are the actions that reflect our value system.
Character is the outworking of the beliefs that are in the heart.
Character is the quality of your response to people or circumstances.
Character is a Moral Issue – not a Spiritual One
As a Christian family we have to come to understand that being a person of character is not a matter of faith – though our faith of course shapes our values. Every person – regardless of faith has character (both good and bad).
Character is a moral issue – character is the words we give the actions that are based on moral choices. For example, we would say a person with character will show respect. Respect is the action that comes from the belief that all people are made in the image of God and are to be treated with care. We would also say that a person with character will be punctual. Punctuality is the action that comes from valuing time.
6 Capacities that make us Human
As I look at each person in my family – any person really – I see 6 different capacities that we have been created with that makes us human:
- Spiritual – we have the capacity to know God
- Moral – we have the capacity to know right from wrong
- Emotional – we have the capacity to express feelings
- Social – we have the capacity to build relationships with others
- Intellectual – we have the capacity to learn and know things
- Physical – we have the capacity to do things with our body
These capacities are not issues of faith – they are the capacities of being human. When it comes to morality every person has the capacity to know right from wrong – and over the ages, and through different cultures we see morals differ and vary. This is where a Christian faith and worldview comes in – our faith in Jesus Christ will shape our morals. But living to those morals does not make us a Christian.
There’s a difference between Spiritual & Moral capacities
It is a our faith in Jesus that makes us a Christian. We are unable to be good enough, to live moral enough lives for God to connect with us, without Jesus. We need to see these issues clearly before we teach character to our kids – and we then need to make it clear to them that being good, doing the right thing, does not make them a Christian. We are all sinners – that is we all have the desire to do things our way, without God. When we become a Christian our hearts are changed so that we desire to do things that please God. So yes, we will do good things, but that is to honour and serve God, not to gain his love or our salvation.
Character is a Life Skill
Since I define character as the quality of our response to people or circumstances – it is a lifeskill. As we define character choices to our kids we are teaching them how to respond to life but by coming at these skills with a moral foundation we are giving them a reason why it is the right (or wrong thing) and this gives them the skills to make choices when you or another authority aren’t with them and making them do the right thing..
This is the key – for our children to be self-governing they have to be able to make a choice. They may make a wrong choice – and we’ll have to help them deal with the consequences of that choice. But when they are informed, when their hearts are given values to base their choices on – then they can choose to make good choices as well.
Character Education teaches Self-Governance
Imagine a child who wants to steal from the Corner Store. They never would when you are there because they know you see all and they would be afraid you’ll catch them. But they’ll give it a shot when you aren’t there. But if they know the value of ownership and respect, they will know that stealing is wrong, or rather, stealing isn’t living by the values of ownership and respect. They can make a choice of their own because of the value they believe in, rather than just out of a fear of being caught.
Of course our children can still, and will, make choices contrary to the values you are teaching them. But you are building up an understanding of the values that will give them success in life. Our job is not to teach them in a way that they will never make the wrong choice – that is creating robots and to do that we have to be authoritarian and not give them choices. Instead we are giving them the understanding of a value system, of right and wrong, and so they have the ability to make a choice. And in so doing – becoming self-governing.
God’s Word is the Foundation for my Morals
I believe God’s word has something to say for every aspect of life. I wanted to teach my kids to look at the world and the people of the world and see them as God sees. I wanted my kids to see that God had something to say about every area of our life – social, political, economical, environmental and education (etc). Teaching my children character traits gave us the framework to teach them that God does have something to say about our behaviour.
When we say there can be a right and a wrong (which is the issue of morals) we have to decide who gets to determine that. Culture more recently leans towards the idea that we decide for ourselves; but for me, and for Christians it is God who sets the moral boundaries, it is God who decides what is right or wrong.
In the Old Testament, the 10 Commandments and the book of Proverbs are an insight into the principles of life that are God honouring and reflect God’s desire for humankind. The New Testament also shows us the blessings of following God’s ways (not just in salvation but also in how we live every day life).
These principles are not our salvation, living by God’s moral standard is not our salvation – but rather about God’s common grace. They are the principles of life that help God’s creation do life well. The principles are the foundation for our morality – for knowing right and wrong. And there are blessings for living that way. Choosing Jesus – now that is another issue altogether.
Over to you:
Has the idea that teaching character was teaching your children that they’d be good enough for God by their good works ever confused you? What are your thoughts now?
Good character won’t get you to Heaven: Good character won’t get you into heaven, but that doesn’t mean we should teach our kids what good character looks like.
How to teach your Children a Growth Mindset as a Christian: Are you teaching your children a growth mindset or do you wonder if the idea is in conflict with your Christian beliefs and values?
Choosing Character to Define your Family: Start thinking what character traits you want your family to be known for.
Teaching Children who live in a Christian home about Jesus: For kids who grow up in a Christian home they need to know that being a Christian is relationship with Jesus – it isn’t about doing good.