Don’t worry, we are all in the same boat. Our understanding of parenting has been from our parents who have gone through similar challenges and other times it’s trial and error.
Joaquinn is a nine-year-old living in our home full of busy adults and he has seen and heard many times this phrase, “Do as I say but don’t do as I do”. The question is, will this actually help Joaquinn develop a Jesus-like character?
Developing a child’s character is one of the many challenges families are facing. In a world of change, with diminishing family values, moral carelessness, and increased numbers of single parents, our children's spiritual condition is at stake.
It is therefore vital for parents to devote their time and energy to building a foundation for their child's character. It is important because a child's spiritual character will be moulded no matter what.
It will either be moulded by Christian parents or it will be moulded by the world. Character development cannot be left to chance. The following are some suggestions to consider as we team up in ‘building our children’s character now and for eternity’.
Have a plan
Skilful artists and builders work with clear plans. A sculptor with no design can make every cut uneven. A builder without a blueprint could end up with a house that is weak and unattractive. In the same way, parents must have a design, a plan for their child's character. What do you want to build into his or her life? Jesus said, "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?" (Luke 14:28). Christian parents need to establish specific goals for parenting. Visualize your child as God does. Parents should have a mental picture of what God intended for their children, in that way they can focus on ideas for parenting which will increase the likelihood that their children will accept their values and, as they mature, will embrace and aspire to goals similar to those of their parents.
Help children discover God
The duty of parents is clearly explained in Deut. 6:1, 2, 5-7. These texts record a time when God told His people to teach their children the faithfulness of God and to promote the fear of God in their homes. Parental instruction must be diligent and earnest.
"These commandments that I give you…impress them on your children." This requires making the most of opportunities and activities in which the child is interested to teach him or her important values and beliefs such as love, respect, honesty, and kindness. Parents also need to teach continuously and with perseverance."
Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."
Formation of habits and the training of character are not attained by isolated efforts, but by regular and unceasing repetition. If playing in the garden or reading a story together provides parents the opportunity to guide and to teach, then do so by all means. We should not let opportunities slip by because we are too tired at the end of the day, or because the children are busy with playing, or because everyone is watching television.
Samuel was one of the finest examples of spiritual faithfulness in the Old Testament. He remained obedient to God throughout his life. He grew up in Eli's household at a time when Eli was also the high priest. He had watched Eli lose his sons to the world. He had seen what Eli had done wrong and the mistakes he should have avoided. Unfortunately, Samuel failed just as Eli did: he lost his sons in exactly the same way. Read 1 Samuel 8:3. Being a great leader does not guarantee effectiveness as a parent. The training of children takes time. Eli and Samuel were too busy serving the Lord to take time to train their sons or to build close, influential relationships with them. They failed to obey the command to teach their sons when "you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up" (Deut. 6:7).
Be an example for children
There is an old saying, "Action speaks louder than words." If training is to be effective, it must start within the parents. Parents must themselves represent the values and beliefs they hold. Children will have greater respect for instruction if they witness genuineness in the modelling of mothers and fathers. Paul illustrates this point in Philippians 4:9, "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."
The Philippian Christians had an excellent example in Paul who was a pattern of the same truth he preached. No wonder the church at Philippi was so healthy and happy. If you want your children to be kind, you must first show kindness, if you want them to love God and revere Him; you must show them how you love the Lord and keep His commands.
In Proverbs 6:22 we find the old familiar verse most Christians can quote from memory, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Training and developing children's characters require that parents recognise the importance of individual differences in their children.
Training your children does not mean bringing them up as you see them. In every child are established inclinations or personality traits. It is vital in character training to discover those traits and adapt our training accordingly.
It is unwise for parents to fit every child into (the parents') mold. Parents need to be wise and sensitive to know the way God made their children to be, so that they can cultivate and bring forth the best in them. But how do parents detect which qualities our children have? Proverbs 20:11-12 is still the best answer, "Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right. Ears that hear and eyes that see—the Lord has made them both." Parents will discover the characteristics of their child when they study him or her carefully, using the "ears that hear and eyes that see."
Observe, listen, and spend time with your child to discover his or her interests, inclinations, strengths and weaknesses. Help the child become what God has intended for him or her to be.
Encourage children to think for themselves
While it is important to teach by example and by precept, it is even more important to teach your child to think for themselves.
In character-building, children should be encouraged to think through moral and religious values clearly, so that they can clarify their own values and see the consequences of their actions.
In many Christian homes a child is told what he or she may or may not do, but is not trained to understand why. Internally, that child lacks a conviction to stand firm on what he or she believes to be right. It is therefore important to encourage your child to think about why an act is right or wrong.
Learning from consequences of a decision
Parents, try not to shield your children from the consequences of their decisions. If they decide to act on certain issues after considering your advice, allow them to make that choice. When they make a wrong choice, they may have to pay for it.
But it can be a valuable lesson from experience. If parents decide everything for the child, he or she has no need to develop self-control, or to consider what is right or wrong. When such children are really confronted with many tempting situations they will have no previous experiences that have sharpened their insight or helped them have confidence that they are making good choices.
Provide children with responsibilities
It is important that our children develop responsibility. But to develop responsibility, children have to have responsibility. That includes taking care of their possessions, doing their homework, keeping their commitments, and earning their pocket money when they are old enough to do so.
However, we also need to provide them with opportunities to care for others, to contribute to the welfare of other family members and those in the church and community. Such responsibilities might be sharing household work, helping a charitable organization, or putting aside some pocket money for a worthy cause. At an early age children can be taught principles of Christian stewardship, the wise management of all that God has provided for them.
Responsibility training should start early. Even two-year-olds can help mother fold clothes! As children's moral reasoning develops, parents should seek every opportunity to explain why we should help others. This helps children to grow up in a balanced way, with thoughtfulness and concern for others, instead of always demanding their rights and having no sense of their responsibilities.
Training children to have upright characters, to love God, to be loyal citizens now and for eternity, and to have selfless concerns for the welfare of others requires a life of self-sacrifice on the part of parents.
It requires love that "seeketh not its own", but lives and gives of itself.
It requires not so much the material things that parents can provide for their children. Rather, it requires that parents labor consistently with love and patience to teach their children by their actions and lifestyles the moral values and character traits they so desire to transmit.
Pr Eric Toleafoa
Seventh-day Adventist Church