Christian parents often ask, “What are the character traits I should teach my children?” Even if you reduce your research to just the New Testament, the options can seem overwhelming. As with anything you attempt to teach your children, it is important not to try and work on too many things too deeply at one time. If your children are toddlers, it is a great time to start introducing basic ideas in simple statements. If you have been working with older children, but feel there are some gaps, you may want to focus on correcting and changing one or two bad habits or attitudes at a time.
So what areas should be your primary focus? I am sure you can find lots of different lists, but I believe these are some of the foundational character traits your child must possess in order to be the Christian God wants them to be:
- Obedience – As politically incorrect as the idea of obedience may be today, it is absolutely essential your child can obey. Being a Christian revolves around our obedience to God. (Yes, I know we can’t earn our way to heaven, but God commands our obedience.) There are actually two types of obedience you need to teach your child. First, whenever possible, teach your child the “why’s” behind God’s commands and yours. Teach them godly commands protect us from negative consequences and often provide some sort of blessing (If nothing else the blessing of a lack of negative consequences in your life.). Perhaps the most important type of obedience your child must learn to embrace is immediate, unquestioning obedience. There are times when your child must obey God and/or you immediately without questioning and perhaps without ever really understanding why the command is given. If your child begins to dart in front of a car, immediate obedience to your command to stop can save his life. If you do not teach your child to obey you and ultimately God as a child, his likelihood of obeying God in adulthood are dramatically reduced.
- Unconditional Love – Unfortunately, much of what is called love in our world is highly conditional. Yet, Jesus taught us by his example that we are to love others unconditionally. This does not mean allowing people to behave badly without accountability, It means you love people enough to serve them and share your faith even if they look different, talk differently, smell bad or any other trait that would cause us to deny them our love, service and the message of God. Your children need to practice loving their siblings, parents, friends and whomever they meet with the same love God has for them. Give your children lots of opportunities to serve and love those society often rejects – those who are different in some way. Learning unconditional love will not only make your children better servants of others, but it can also improve their friendships, marriages and parenting.
- Respect- The idea of respect usually brings up images of someone saluting and saying “Yes Sir”. Those are merely trappings of what may or may not be true respect. Respect is actually tied to humility. Your child needs to understand God is number one, no matter what. This means respecting God to know what is best for them, respecting God enough to obey Him even if your children disagree with the command. Respect also means acknowledging they are not the smartest people on the planet nor have they learned everything. It is the attitude that we can still learn something from almost anyone we meet. It is placing value on the property, but more importantly, the feelings of others. It means speaking well of others, or holding our tongue at times to avoid trashing another person. Ultimately, part of respect is the ability to put someone else before yourself.
- Perseverance – Your children need to learn how to stick with something to the bitter end, especially when it gets very difficult to do so. The Christian life has lots of benefits, but at times – especially for young people – those benefits don’t sound as appealing as dropping the Christian lifestyle and fitting in with everyone else. Even adults at time are easily tempted to drop or severely modify their beliefs and principles in order to not stand out at the office or with non-Christian friends. Teaching your child how to not only stay on the godly path, but thrive and bring others on to that same path, will be a gift your child will come to value over the years.
- Generosity – The Bible is filled with commands for us to serve others with our time, talents and our money. Not just to check it off of some imaginary list, but from a generous heart. Give your children plenty of opportunities to give to others – not just of their things, but their time and talents as well. Teach them how to give from the heart and not from a set of rules.
- Self-Control – This is a fruit of the Spirit, which in my book means to actually succeed at some level, we need the help of the Holy Spirit (which will be in your children once they are baptized believers). Until that time though, they need to learn to take control of themselves. This is one that can begin strangely enough while teaching them to sleep through the night in their own bed. Let’s face it, much of Christianity requires self control. There are times when even the most loving, peaceful Christian is tempted to slug someone! Your children cannot expect you to constantly monitor their behavior and keep them from making mistakes. (Nor should you.) The sooner you can teach your children to control themselves and their behaviors, the easier your parenting journey will be.
- Faithfulness – If your children are going to be productive, faithful, Christian adults, they need to possess a strong faith in God. This does not mean they will never have any doubts. Rather, at the end of the day, they will choose to obey and follow God even if they have a lingering doubt or two. Faithfulness is not only being full of faith and trust in God, but being faithful to the promise we make when we become a Christian. Don’t remember any promise you made when baptized? Well we don’t actually articulate it, but becoming a Christian is a way of promising God we intend to follow Him – through worship, obedience and service. We become a disciple – one who tries to copy the one who is discipling – in our case God- as closely as possible. Your children need to be regularly exposed to God’s Word and how it works in your life and theirs to build a strong foundation of faith.
- Honesty – I have a feeling it has always been a problem thanks to the famous Greek (or was it Roman?!) myth. It is hard to find an honest man or woman in today’s world. Yet, if you read the Bible, lying is the one thing that seems to bother God so much He lists it regularly as something He abhors. Our children need to be total truth tellers (Check “truth” under our subject guide for more helpful articles on the topic). Telling the truth not only pleases God, but also makes your children stand out in a positive way to the world around them.
There are so many more traits I could list here from alertness to wisdom. Some of you may want that list too at some point. If you haven’t been proactive about training your children to embrace some of these attributes, this list will keep you and your children occupied for quite some time. Since many of these are foundational ideas, mastering them will making adding other attributes over time much easier. I know there are days when simply getting your kids dressed and off to school seems like an uphill war. Taking the time though, to thoughtfully and prayerfully train your children in godly attributes will put them on the only path that truly matters in life – the godly path leading to Heaven. It’s worth the time and effort.