Good parents want nothing more than for their children to be men and women of character. That is, to be individuals who have honor, goodness and integrity. These attributes will benefit each child and anyone who associates with them, because strength of character is necessary to achieve any worthwhile goal.
The character, or integrity, of our children also has a tremendous impact beyond our own family. Confucius said, “The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” What we do with our children helps strengthen our society.
A good character is not genetic. It must be taught, learned and earned. Some would debate if our children are who they are because of nature (they were born that way) or nurture (they were raised that way). Most parents would agree that their children are unique but they can be taught. In other words, there are elements of nature and nurture.
Our character is the sum of our choices. Therefore, we must take advantage of the time we are with our kids to teach them to make good choices. Once they leave the house, there isn’t much a parent can do to help them make correct decisions. We love them and want them to be successful and happy in life. The following are some ways to help children to choose correctly so that they will become men and women of character.
- Teach correct principals. Children must be taught not only right from wrong but also good from better and best. The teaching of parents should also be supplemented by allowing the kids to associate with people of character. For example, if a child likes sports, the most important consideration should be the coach.
- Set a good example. Those who disregard the law typically raise children who disregard the law. Our society is plagued with individuals and micro-societies that justify bad behavior because of some past wrong, or perceived wrong, that was done to them or someone they know. Parents must be mature enough to do what is right regardless of wrongs done to them.
- Reinforce the importance of a good character. We have a bronze plaque on our front door that reads, “Return with Honor.” It is intended to be a constant reminder of what is expected of each member of our family, parents included. It also helps every family remember that their actions reflect on all members of the family.
- Recognize and reward good behavior. It is much more important in developing character for a child to be recognized and praised for helping someone with their homework than for scoring the winning touchdown. It doesn’t happen often enough. Society is teaching kids that winning at sports is more important than almost anything. Our most effective method to combat this lie is to praise appropriately.
- Explain the law of consequences. Moral agency is one of the greatest of God’s gifts to man. An eternal truth is that you can choose your actions, but you can’t choose the consequences. Since every person has agency, it is up to parents to teach their children to make choices that yield positive consequences.
- Help kids connect the dots. When we counsel our children with, “Don’t hang around with kids who don’t share your values,” or “Don’t use alcohol or drugs.” We must also tell them why. “Kids who don’t share your values will make it very easy for you to make bad choices.” “Alcohol and drugs impair you and could lead to decisions that will destroy your life both physically and morally.” Then, follow up with examples. There are thousands of bad examples. Most teenagers are smart but they are not always good at connecting the dots of the long term results of their actions.
- Let them make as many decisions as possible. Learning by experience is the best way for someone to learn if those choices will not jeopardize their physical or spiritual well-being. As my wife says, “Let children learn to make choices. Mismatched clothes at age two or three is okay.” As they become older, they are able to make complex decisions with parents establishing the boundaries, for example, “You can wear whatever you want, as long as it is not offensive.” “You can go out tonight, as long as you will be home by curfew and I know where you are going.” “You can use the car as long as I approve of where you are taking it.”
Finally, parents must be mature enough to allow their children to pay the consequences of their actions. Constantly saving the child from consequences is a great way to raise an irresponsible adult. Being consistent in teaching correct principles and modeling honorable behavior is the best way to help our children to be people of good character.