By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Creative Arts Director
Woodland Hills Church
The past two weeks, we’ve talked about how our picture of God shapes our faith and our identities and how creating family values together and working to integrate those values into daily life is key in creating a unified and loving home. I’d like to build off those ideas today and look at character.
Character is the mixture of habits, behaviors, and thought-patterns you possess. These characteristics are grown and shaped by your values and by how you understand and relate to the world around you. They’re the kind of things people usually use to describe who you are (aside from how you look). “Oh, she is so thoughtful and kind toward others.” “He’s the kind of guy who keeps his promises and takes responsibility for his actions.” “She’s got courage and bravery off the charts!” We all want to have a character that can be described in positive ways that reflect our faith and our life with Christ. And we want that for our kids, as well.
So how do you help a child develop that kind of character? What grows and shapes a child’s character more than anything else? Learning by example. A young child begins reacting to and mimicking the behavior she sees almost immediately. Like a set of building blocks, she takes one piece of information, sets it in her mind, and uses it as a base for another new piece of information. Which means that what she sees and experiences in relation to others helps her develop an understanding of what is valued and what is not, what can be trusted and what to be wary of. When she is told hitting her brother is not okay because it hurts her brother whom she and your family love, she learns that others need to be valued and not hurt and that forgiveness can be given when we mess up. When she is praised for helping to clean up toys, she learns cooperation and lending a hand are valued and encouraged. Knowing these values are held by people she cares for and trusts, she will likely begin to develop characteristics of helpfulness, care for others, and forgiveness. Will she do it right every time? Not a chance. But with continual love, grace, and gentle discipline, she can also add perseverance and determination to her character.
As children get older, parents and family members still have a great deal of influence in a child’s character (often more than you’d think), but there come two added factors with age: peer relationships and culture. Interacting with peers from the late elementary years into the teen years gets really tricky – Often, values and identities kids have had since infancy are put to the test, which shakes up character and causes some wonky behavior and thought-patterns. Though he’s always been told he’s loved and forgiven at home, a child may experience something different from classmates and friends. In order to gain their attention and acceptance, he may chose to set aside family values such as honesty and obedience and lie to his friends that he can play a certain video game even though the truth is that’s a game his parents have said no to at home.
So what do you do when this happens? Have they lost their character? Nope. The best thing to do: Don’t freak out. Plain and simple. Kids will – like you – make mistakes. They will let something else tell them what is true, who they are, and what they should value, and that will drive them at times to behave in negative ways. Steer away from just pointing out their mistake and telling them not to do that again. It doesn’t get at the root issue. The root issue in this instance is the child wants to get something of his identity and worth from his peers. That’s what you really want to help him tackle. Help him in see the truth of who he is in Christ and how lying and disobedience pull him away from the incredible young man God made him to be – a child of God who is full of potential and love and talent. This will likely have a more lasting effect than simply grounding him for bad behavior. Through respectful dialogue (not a lecture), he can take part in the conversation, voice his own concerns and frustrations and feelings, and learn how to work out the deeper issues he’s dealing with each day.
Kids want to be heroes – look at the movies and games they watch and play. They want to be brave, honest, and successful like their “heroes.” We just need to help them learn that building a character based on Christ and Kingdom values is the best way to get there.