Over the years, I have had many people ask me questions about how to teach positive character traits to their children. And, raising children with good character was high on our family’s list of educational goals.
Years ago, when I was a young mother, I thought you could teach it through books specifically designed for this purpose. We checked out books with titles like "Let's Talk about Whining" and "Let's talk about Lying" from the church library. We still own a book called "Never Tease a Weasel." It has been well over a decade since I have looked at this book but I can still recite:
Never tease a weasel,
Now there's some good advice.
A weasel will not like it,
And teasing isn't nice.
But, you know what? While many of these books were fun to read, they did not help teach my kids not to whine, lie or tease. It was like the books were one thing, life another.
My husband went to a seminar once and brought home some beautiful books with animal lessons. Each animal was supposed to teach a Biblical truth, a character trait for the children to emulate. They were beautiful books with matching coloring books. The kids enjoyed the stories and learning about the various animals. One year I had Chad [then late middle school age] teach a lesson every week to Kari and Scotty for science/character training. The books were that good!
There were ducks and wolves and all sorts of interesting facts woven into the fiber of the underlying theme of teaching character. They loved those books! But, just because they learned that a baby wood duck has to obey his mother at the first call or he will be left in the nest of the hollow tree, it didn’t mean that my children obeyed when I first called.
But, if you follow the logic of the book, the mother duck had some serious character issues of her own if she would leave her own baby behind just because he didn't obey her the first time she called.
Then I understood! Character is caught not taught!
The way to teach children how to be honest is to be honest. I will admit, this is much harder than reading a book called "Let's Talk About Honesty," but I believe this is THE only way to teach character.
The way to teach children compassion is to be compassionate. The way to teach them not to gossip is not to gossip. The way…well you get my drift.
You know it's true. Kids watch us like hawks and they don't miss a trick. They see if we give back the extra quarter the clerk gave us in our change. They see if we help a neighbor or look the other way so we can avoid them. They know if we pick up the phone when we know it’s our mother-in-law on the other end. They hear us gossip. But, don't get discouraged! Granted, we are not perfect and we make mistakes; but I think realizing that we are teaching character when we think our kids are not looking, will make us better parents-- better people- and better ambassadors for Christ [One of Sonlight’s Top 10 Goals] ! And, we don't have to be perfect to do a good job.
This is what I believe with all my heart: Character is caught, not taught. [Next Monday, I will let you in on a secret of how to making “catching” good character a little bit easier.]