How can I instill a solid Christian character into my child? Most of the parenting materials I've seen have a great deal to say about discipline, mental and emotional health, obedience and order in the home. Unfortunately, there isn't much out there on the subject of character development, especially from a Christian perspective. Do you have any suggestions?
Before doing anything else, make sure that you know what you believe and why you believe it. Do you really have a firm grip on your moral and spiritual values and a clear understanding of your beliefs about God and your relationship with Him? If you don't, you won't be able to pass anything along to anyone.
While many mothers and fathers have spent years cultivating a living, growing and well-articulated faith, others arrive at parenthood with little or no sense of God's role in their lives. The plot thickens when Mom and Dad are not on the same page spiritually. Obviously, the more unified parents are on this important subject, and the earlier these questions are addressed, the better – but it's never too late. Communicating regularly with your spouse about your individual and mutual spiritual journeys isn't just for Sunday morning. It's a vital topic for everyday conversation. This is the place to begin if you want to give your kids the gift of a vibrant spiritual heritage.
The next step is to pray regularly for each of your children. This is actually the most important part of the whole process of transmitting spiritual values (not to mention the rest of your parenting assignment). Acknowledging our lack of control over our children's physical and spiritual future, and our dependence upon the One who holds it in His hands, is the beginning of wisdom. Along with a daily commitment to pray for each child, consider setting aside a day every week or month for more concerted and detailed prayer, perhaps in the context of time spent alone or even fasting.
As you set out on this pilgrimage, remember to stay flexible and open to the daily guidance of God's Spirit. Don't be bound by the advice you receive from others; instead, carefully weigh their thoughts and suggestions, find out what works best in your family, and make any necessary adjustments as you go along. There is no fail-safe, "cookbook," formula-based approach to raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The secret of true spiritual growth is a mystery that lies hidden in the heart of God. Often it involves the planting of seeds that may not bear obvious fruit until many years have passed.
As far as possible, stay aware of the spiritual impact of your own childhood experiences. Try to avoid reacting against the attitudes and methods of your parents. For example, you don't have to reject the idea of family devotions simply because you hated them as a kid. Every family is unique. Whatever the past may have held for you, strive to create a home environment where love, safety, sanity, good humor, kindness and appropriate limits are an everyday experience. Let Christ be the Lord of everything you do. Remember that too many would-be disciples have become long-term prodigals because they were desperate to escape a painful home that included a lot of empty or even toxic religious talk.
In connection with this last point, it's particularly crucial for fathers to be aware of the powerful role they play in shaping their children's emotional understanding of God's character. If Dad is a perfectionist, unpredictable, emotionally disconnected, or prone to outbursts of temper, this is what will come to mind when kids hear Bible lessons about their Father in heaven.
As children get older and begin moving through the adolescent years, it's crucial to adapt your teaching and your example to their expanding intellectual capacities. If they're to internalize your values and beliefs, they need to understand the reasons and rationale behind them. When tough questions come up – for example, "Why is it wrong to have sex outside of marriage?" or "Why would God allow so many people to die in an earthquake?" – avoid giving pat answers or shutting down the conversation because you're not comfortable with the direction it's taking. It's important to affirm the reality of God and the authority of the Bible, but you don't have to have the answers to everything. On the contrary, you can demonstrate your confidence in the Lord by showing a willingness to engage in productive dialogue.
If you need help applying these ideas to your personal situation, call our staff of pastoral counselors. They'd love to discuss your questions with you over the phone.
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