Recently, there have been theories about what needs to be done about the problem of violence in our society. Most agree that the home is the place where life lessons are first and most enduringly taught. The poem, Children Learn What They Live, is a classic example of how the life modeled at home is what a child models to the world. Perhaps there are some other areas we can help our children. After all, one of the most important responsibilities of parenting is to pass on tools to help children live a positive life that makes a positive difference in the world. In a world of situational ethics and doing whatever it takes to get ahead it's important to focus on building good character traits. The media and most things our kids see are replete with messages contrary to good character. Parents have to put in double duty in modeling positive ideals. Maybe we can also use this time of making resolutions to be a time to help our kids be better.
Michael Josephson, the president and founder of Josephson Institute has been a long proponent of teaching and modeling character. His long running radio piece in the Los Angeles area has provided insights and lessons on integrity in everyday life. The Josephson Youth Center reports recently that there has been a significant drop in incidences of lying, cheating and stealing of American students.
If this trend is to continue people like you and myself who are parents and grandparents will have to make it so. We cannot leave it to television programs or to the schools to teach our kids about character and integrity. We must do it and it must start today. But how do we go about doing this? What are some steps we must focus on to ensure our kids grow up with a deep sense of honesty and integrity.
Some have defined character as what a person does when no one is watching. Character is defined by Merriam-Webster as the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person, group or nation. Everyone has some kind of character. The question is what kind of character does a person have. To help a person develop good character traits of honesty, integrity and compassion for others takes intentionality and time. While some are predisposed to this in most cases people must be taught. Here are some steps that can be applied to help our kids develop good character traits.
1. Show 'N' Tell
It's important to remember that children listen to what you say, but they remember what they see you do. Another way to put it is some things are taught, but lasting things are caught.
With a bunch of "activities" our kids become more focused on tasks than life. With music lessons, sports practices, tutoring etc. they can easily presume it's more important to get things done than to do things with honesty. Some activities like sports hopefully integrate things like honesty and caring for others, but what is modeled in the home?
Children watch how we act in various life situations and they will see that as the way to act. As kids age they get more and more influence from outside sources (school, friends, TV). Therefore, it is essential for parents to model good character as much and as early as possible. If our kids see us showing compassion and honesty it's more likely they will integrate them into their day-to-day lives as well.
2. Praise Don't Pay
So often today good or even mediocre behavior or accomplishments are rewarded. In my opinion it teaches kids to expect something for achievements or positive behavior rather than the sense of having done something good. In acknowledging acts of honesty and kindness praise goes a lot farther than a treat in shaping character. It also helps build lasting self-confidence.
3. Look for Learning Moments
Some times the most memorable moments are not manufactured, but are simply captured. Whether its helping someone who dropped something at the mall or helping a neighbor pick up leaves or simply pointing out good character building moments over a meal we should use every day moments to make a difference.
Mining the moments can occur if we are realize how special these day-to-day times can be.
4. This is too important not to do
I know what you're thinking. Life is so full of stuff who has the time to focus on something like this. Some of you may be saying to yourself, "My kids are alright and we they know to be nice." Well, to quote the Proverbs 22:6, we are to train up a child. Training up a child has to do with intentional regular acts of speaking into the life of the child so they will act a certain way when they are older. If it's important to be intentional about their diet so they grow up strong and healthy and have good eating habits it's also important to give them a steady diet of how to make healthy choices about integrity and honesty. They will have the tools to make those same kinds of choices as they grow up and it will ensure they will be honest and of good character as adults. It's too important not to be intentional about.