Teach Those Life Lessons
That Help Kids Grow Straight
by Patricia Fry
When Davey came home with the neighbor's cat, he didn't know it was the wrong thing to do. In his 7-year-old mind, he had found the cat and, since the cat was friendly, he thought it needed a buddy. His mother explained to Davey that the cat belonged to Mrs. Johnson down the block. She told him that it was wrong for him to take the cat and that it was his responsibility to return the cat to the owner.
Children are not born knowing right from wrong. They don't automatically make moral choices. They aren't programmed from birth understanding God's word—His laws for His people. It's up to parents, extended family members and the church community to model and teach our young people to live according to scripture.
It's probably more challenging today than ever before to raise happy, spiritually healthy children who grow up to become men and women of character. But it is possible and it is a parent's duty. Didn't Jesus say, "Children, obey your parents in all things for this is well-pleasing unto the Lord?" You know what sort of behavior is "well-pleasing unto the Lord" and it is your task to teach your children to live in this world according to Biblical principles.
Following are the most important positive character values that you can teach and model for your children, your grandchildren and all of the other children whose lives you touch. When Jesus spoke in Horeb, He said, "I will make them hear my words that they shall live upon the earth and that they may teach their children." He made it clear that He trusted us to teach our children the truths that He shared with His followers so many years ago.
Respect: When you teach your children good manners, you're teaching them respect for others. But it's also important that a child respects himself. A child or a teen who values him/herself is less likely to succumb to the negative temptations rampant among their peers. And when one respects himself, it is easier to respect others.
To respect someone is to be considerate of them, to treat them with high regard—with reverence. The Golden Rule applies here—"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." So the first step in being treated with respect is to show respect.
Teach your daughter to respect her grandparents by encouraging her to always greet them cordially when they come to visit. Teach your son to show respect for the neighbors by being considerate of their property, their privacy, and their peace. But showing respect isn't enough. Our youngsters must value that person before they can demonstrate true respect. It is possible to show respect without actually respecting or valuing that person. So when you're teaching this character trait, parents, dig a little deeper and bring out the full message.
Help your children to understand and appreciate an individual and true respect will follow. For example, say to them, "Our neighbor, Mrs. Snodgrass, sure does love her flowers. Have you noticed how hard she works in her garden every day? Isn't it wonderful that she gets such joy from gardening and that she shares God's beauty with the whole neighborhood?" Tell your kids, "Grandpa is sad today. This is the anniversary of the day he retired and he really misses his work. It's too bad that he isn't well enough to fly for the airlines anymore."
Likewise, keep your comments positive. What you say and what you do have a tremendous impact on how your children feel about and react to others. Avoid saying things like, "Oh no, Susan is coming over again. I get so tired of listening to her." Or "Grandpa is really getting on my nerves, lately."
Jesus taught that one should have respect even for the lowly. This is a lesson in tolerance. Help your children to accept people for who they are without judgment—the homeless woman he sees on his way to school, the man who drives the rubbish truck, the disabled child across the street, for example.
You can foster tolerance by your own words and deeds particularly relating to strangers. Be gracious when another driver signals to change lanes in front of you on the freeway. If a gentleman opens the door for you at the post office, allow him to take the next place in line. Your children will notice and they will follow your lead.
Gratitude: Thank you is a small phrase that can have a huge impact. Each of us is grateful to God for the life He has given us. Our gratitude connects us to Him. And we can develop a connection with others by expressing our appreciation for the gifts they bring into our lives. A child who can say "Thank you" and really mean it, will establish a chain of friends.
A sense of appreciation does not come naturally. It must be taught and it is your job as parents to teach your children how to feel grateful and how to express their gratitude. Giving thanks at meals is a good start. Reminding small children to say "please" and "thank you" is also a good practice. But you can and should do more.
Let your children see you expressing your gratitude in a variety of situations. Send thank you notes, call someone to express your appreciation for a kindness, take the children with you to deliver flowers to someone who did you a favor.
Point out to the children the reasons why they should be grateful. Say, for example, "Ruthie, the shawl Mrs. Norton made for you is so beautiful. It must have taken her a very long time to knit it. It shows how much she cares about you." Help her to write a note of thanks for the thoughtful gift.
Say to your son, "Wasn't that nice of Pastor Tom to teach you how to play that song on the guitar? He must think you are very special because he has a very busy schedule. Maybe you can show your appreciation by recording the song for him once you can play it well."
Responsibility A sense of responsibility will help keep your child on a more virtuous path. When we are accountable for our actions, we will make better choices. This is true for adults as well as children. How does a parent instill a sense of responsibility in a child? By giving him age appropriate tasks and making sure that he follows through.
As children grow and mature, they automatically earn more freedom and become more independent. How do they earn that independence? By demonstrating a sense of responsibility. They follow the family, school and community rules as well as God's rules. They do what they say they're going to do. When they make a mistake, rather than placing blame elsewhere or trying to avoid punishment, they own up to it and expect to suffer the consequences.
A responsible person also takes some responsibility for others. For example, a child who is skateboarding down the sidewalk demonstrates a sense of responsibility and respect when he moves aside and allows others to pass. A youngster who picks up an empty soda can or gum wrapper that isn't his exhibits responsibility. A teen who drives past a prime parking space at church so that someone elderly or ailing can park there is being responsible.
Integrity: Raise children of integrity by challenging them to trust God's word and to abide by it. Integrity adheres to ethical and moral principles. It means knowing the right thing to do and choosing that path. Parents, you can help your children make ethical choices by guiding and modeling.
Most children don't realize that they have choices. It is your job to open their eyes to their options. In order to help them make the right choice—the ethical choice—millions of people today ask, "What would Jesus do?" This mantra might also help your child do the right thing more often than not.
Let's say that your child borrows a CD from a friend and then loses it. Ask her, "What would Jesus do?" If she is unsure about her responsibility in this situation, coach her in coming to the right answer. Another way to help her understand the meaning of integrity is to put her in her friend's shoes. One can get a new perspective on what is right and what is wrong when they view the issue or problem from a different angle.
What would you do if your child accidentally rides his bicycle through the neighbor's vegetable garden?
1: Tell the neighbor that you're sorry, but it WAS just an accident?
2: Defend your child no matter what the facts.
3: Scold the child and restrict him from riding his bike for the rest of the day?
4: Have the child apologize to the neighbor and ask permission to repair the damage in the garden.
If you chose number 4, you are raising a child of integrity.
Fairness. We hear it said that life isn't fair, but we can strive to be fair-minded in our dealings with other people. Someone who is fair is just—their decisions are according to principle. In Isaiah 26.7, we read, "The way of the just is uprightness."
However, what seems fair to one child might not be fair to the other. Because fairness is relative, children should be taught to look at both sides of a situation. Jesus did this in many instances as is noted throughout the Bible.
Caring. To care is to be compassionate. Caring is easily modeled and easily taught, yet so sorely forgotten in our culture today. We don't take the time to be helpful, thoughtful and kind. We are rushing toward our goals and tossing consideration out the window.
Make it a special point to exhibit kindness to those around you. Remember, your children are watching. Go out of your way to help an elderly neighbor carry in her groceries, fix meals for the family of an ailing friend, explain to your children that driving safely is a way to demonstrate that one cares about others.
Trustworthiness. Teach your children the value of trustworthiness and show them what this virtue looks like by being trustworthy yourself. Someone who is trustworthy is honorable, dependable and reliable.
To trust in someone is to have faith in them. Teach your children that the virtue of honesty is an asset to him/herself, but it is also a gift to others. When we let God's light shine through us, it reflects only the purest virtues and we—no matter our age—light the way to God's word.
Citizenship. Every citizen is obligated to take care of the environment and to give service within his community. Pass this responsibility on to your children. Involve them in appropriate activities—recycling, beach or trail clean-ups, collecting clothes and toys for homeless children and delivering Christmas dinner to needy families, for example.
God expects us to be charitable. In Timothy 1, 1.5, we read, "The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned."
Our blessed children do not come to us knowing how to be virtuous. It is up to us to teach them the character values they need in order to enjoy a complete, happy and charitable life.