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Developing Christian Character in Children

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How can I raise my kids so that they will grow up to be genuinely godly adults? 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?

The development of positive, stable character traits should flow directly from spiritual growth. Attempts to train a child to be “good” will be relatively meaningless and have only limited success if that child has no personal relationship with God and no real understanding of His love and justice. A kid can make all the right spiritual noises and toe the line when Mom and Dad are watching, but what happens when no one is looking or when he goes off to college by himself? Spiritual maturity and virtuous character traits can’t be instilled into children through a series of lectures. Instead, these things have to arise naturally and holistically out of the quality of life and the health of the relationships they experience at home:

What are the Christian character traits we should be aiming to encourage and develop in children through our parental example and the wise use of unscheduled “teachable moments”? Here’s an alphabetical checklist you might want to keep on hand for future reference.

Courage

Courage is something more than the daring bravado of a superhero. Children need to understand that it’s a vital part of everyday life. It might mean having the confidence to attempt a difficult but worthy project, the nerve to say no to peer pressure or simply the courtesy to be outgoing and friendly to others even when you don’t feel like it.

Determination

Determination can help your child avoid the temptation to become a pessimist. It can also equip him with the indispensable knowledge that present struggles are simply the necessary building blocks for future achievement. This in turn will enable him to concentrate on realistic goals and prepare him to face any hardships that may lie ahead.

Fidelity and chastity

Fidelity and chastity are rarely presented as virtues in contemporary society. That’s why it’s all the more important for parents to help their children grasp the benefits of reserving sexual activity for marriage. Kids also need to understand the serious potential consequences of sexual immorality, sexually transmitted infections and diseases, crisis pregnancies and the pain of a broken heart.

Honesty

Honesty is not always rewarded in our culture, but it’s a bedrock virtue. Without it, all of your child’s most important relationships will be compromised. Children should be taught that truthfulness is critical in all of our interactions with other people. Dishonesty must be discouraged in all its forms.

Humility

Humility arises from an honest assessment of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. It also involves submission to duly constituted authority. Most important, humility will motivate a child to stay dependent upon his Heavenly Father.

Kindness and friendliness

Kindness and friendliness should be presented to a child as admirable and far superior to “toughness.” It’s much better to understand than to confront, and gentleness, especially toward those who are younger or weaker, is a sign of strength. Do not allow your child to become a bully.

Love

Love, according to Scripture, encompasses and surpasses all other virtues (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Children should be taught – and shown – how to love not only their friends and neighbors, but even their enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).

Loyalty and dependability

Loyalty and dependability are essential for success and effectiveness in many areas of life. A promise or commitment needs to be honored. If a child learns to be reliable and stand by his word, he will be trusted and blessed with increased opportunities throughout his life.

Orderliness and cleanliness

Orderliness and cleanliness may or may not be “next to godliness,” but they do speak volumes about a person’s self-respect and regard for others. Good grooming says, “I care enough about those around me to try to appear basically pleasant.”

Respect

Respect is a critical commodity in all human relationships – a quality that has largely been lost in our culture and desperately needs to be regained. True respect encompasses our speech, behavior and attitudes toward virtually everything – life, property, parents, authority, friends, strangers, nature and God Himself.

Self-discipline and moderation

Self-discipline and moderation are rare but valuable traits in a culture that claims that you can – and should – have it all. The exercise of self-control over physical, emotional and financial desires is not only pleasing to God, but it can help prevent illness, debt and burnout later in life.

Unselfishness and sensitivity

Unselfishness and sensitivity are universally appreciated and respected. A child who is more concerned about others than himself will be seen as mature beyond his years and a blessing to all who know him.

Of course, this list is only a starting point. Recognizing the value of these character traits and knowing how to impart them to your kids are two very different things. Sowing the seeds of genuine Christian character in the hearts and minds of kids is a subtle and delicate art. If you need help applying these ideas to your personal situation, call our pastoral counselors. They’d love to discuss your questions with you over the phone.

 

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Parents’ Guide to the Spiritual Growth of Children

Teaching Kids About God

77 Ways Your Family Can Make a Difference: Ideas and Activities for Serving Others

Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World

Raising Kids With Christ-like Conviction

Teaching Kids to Be Respectful

Talking As a Family About Topics of Faith

Referrals
Summit Ministries

Young Life

Youth for Christ

Dare 2 Share

Articles

Spiritual Growth for Kids

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