It is very difficult for a child to release the Kingdom at the store if they are on the floor pitching a fit because you did not buy them a toy. They will have a harder time hearing God’s voice if they haven’t been taught to listen to yours first. You will have a greater challenge getting them to be ‘others’ focused if they have been taught that they are the only ones that matter. Character matters!
CHARACTER IS KINGDOM
Teaching children to walk in character is a VERB, and it is best done in the home by loving parents.
This is how I taught my four toddlers how to grow in self-control during story time at the library. I figured it was an excellent place to train them because no one would notice either way. I sat them down at home and talked about the librarian. I asked Lauren to stand up and share the story of her birthday party. As she was talking, I began to interrupt, wave my hands, hang on her, and be super silly. Then I asked Emma to stand up and share what she had for lunch, and I did the same thing. Yes, we were all laughing hard, but we talked about how awkward it is to be trying to share and have people be disrespectful and rude. I role-played being the librarian reading a book. I taught them how to fold their hands and zip their lips. We talked about how we can be crazy loud monkeys at the park, but a library is a place where we use self-control and show respect. I was armed with training and ready to test it out. Before getting out of the van, I reminded them of the rules and what I expected. I praised them ahead of time, letting them know I believed in them. We entered, and chaos broke out as expected. A couple of times, they began to get up, and I would fold my own hands to model for them what I expected. If they were talking, I would motion to zip my lips, point to my ears, and then intently listen to the librarian. If they attempted to get up, I would give a firm no-no motion with my head. If one ran away, I would go after her and pick her up and set her back down. I would whisper that we are listening to the story. It took us three weeks before my children fully understood but let me tell you, the JOY they brought to the room was priceless. I noticed other moms trying to get their children to start listening, too. They got to enjoy the story because they were taught how to pay attention and show respect. I also had them go up to the librarian at the end of each story time and thank her for reading to them. The first time she had a tear in her eye and said, “I dread story time each week. It is the worst part of my job. Thank you for noticing my effort.” I don’t know about you, but as a mom, that isn’t okay with me. By the time school started, they were way ahead of the game because we had already gone after knowing when to be still and quiet and how to listen when adults are teaching/reading. It is training like this at an early age that sets them up for success down the road.
God speaks, heals, and saves out of COMPASSION! Children need to be intentionally taught the character trait of compassion. When they see something ‘bad’ or ‘ugly,’ purposely talk to them about how you can seek to see underneath it and what God wants you to do to call out the GOOD and value in them. Compassion is the heart of the Father.
To that girl you called a slut in class today. She’s a virgin. The pregnant girl walking down the street. She got raped. The boy you called lame. He has to work every night to support his family. That girl you pushed down the other day. She’s already being abused at home. That girl you called fat. She’s starving herself. That old man you made fun of cause of the ugly scars. He fought for our country. The boy you made fun of for crying. His mother is dying. You think you know them. Guess what? You don’t! Your actions affect those around you.
I realize we are all first-generation parents stewarding the world of technology with our children. We will hit some home runs, and we will make some mistakes along the way. One day my son asked if he could take his phone with him on our family outing. I usually have them leave them at home because it is our time to connect, but I allowed it. He was playing a Spanish app and engrossed in it and barely said a word. I had to run to Walmart, and he asked if he could keep playing on it while I was shopping. I agreed to make an exception. The trip was chaotic. He was always a few feet behind us and not paying attention as he bumped into others due to looking down on his phone. I was in a bit of a hurry and was trying to find something for Ellie. I asked him to stay by the cart while I ran down the other aisle, and he absent-mindedly walked away, leaving my cart and purse unattended. I asked him to go back to the cart. A few moments later, Ellie came to me upset because Hudson was snapping at her. He was attempting to push the cart but ran into something because his eyes were on his phone. A few minutes later, I asked him to help me with something, and he had an attitude with me for ‘interrupting’ him. It was so chaotic and stressful. I went to him and held out my hand, asking for his phone. We finished and when we got into the car, I reminded him that I had raised him to be a helper, to see others, to be kind, to jump in where needed, to be a gentleman, to serve, be aware of his surroundings and to be a blessing. I did not raise a son whose eyes were locked looking down on a screen, walking around aimlessly without seeing a single person or contributing to the task. Every parent needs to make their own choice about technology, but for me, when they were younger, going to the store was our training ground for character, and I was not going to let a phone undo all that work. I care more about his development than his entertainment. I care more about the man he is becoming than his comfort. I care more about him seeing others than what he is watching for himself. The phone is not your friend if it is breaking connection with those around you.
Character matters because it matters to heaven. The Word is loaded with commands on the way we should be conducting ourselves, and children need opportunities to grow in self-control, discipline, and character.
Years ago, we were traveling as a family and arrived at our hotel late but had a super early am flight. Within minutes, our hotel room was trashed; stuff everywhere, covers all over the place, trash on the floor, towels all over, etc. I called the kids in and asked how we would feel if we walked into our hotel room like that. Would we want to stay here? Not really! I told them that the housekeeping staff is paid to make it look nice for the next person. It’s their job. No matter how big of a mess we make, they have to clean it. I then asked them, “But is that what we WANT to do?” Do we want to be known as yet one more dirty, messy room, or do we want to be known for the mysterious family that blessed her socks off when she opened yet one more room to clean? Since that defining moment in our family, at every hotel we have stayed at, the kids have gathered the trash in one spot and piled dirty towels together, they ask Jesus what He wants to say to the maids and place notes with $1 bills around the room for her. It isn’t always about our ‘rights’ but about having the character to lay down our rights in order to be a blessing to others. This was a defining moment in our family, deciding who we wanted to be as a unit. In order to be who we are called to be, we had to reject the norm and march to our own drum. Every family has an identity. Ask yourself: “What matters to me? How do I want people to experience us? What is the greatest way we can impact the world around us as a family? What will we stand for?”
Going to the library with four little ones was no small task, but I was determined. I discovered this glorious thing called “Toddler Story Time,” which to me meant someone else could take the lead, at least for a few minutes anyway. I was mortified at what my eyes saw. The senior librarian welcomed the children, but not one person in the room responded. She sat down to read the book, and chaos broke out. Kids were running all over the room as loud as they could be. No one seemed to care that she was trying to read to them. My shock morphed into judgment when a child began to play tug of war with the book that the librarian was trying desperately to read, and the mother did not feel led to assist the librarian in getting her book back. Before I knew it, my four joined the circus. I vowed I would never come back again. A week later, we were at the movie theater, and the same thing happened with kids running all over the place, making it impossible to actually watch the movie. Suddenly I realized what Proverbs 22:15 meant when it says, “A child’s heart has a tendency to do wrong, but the rod of discipline removes it far away from him.” Many of us know the ‘spanking’ part of this verse, and we get lost in the debate if children should be spanked. We need to zoom out of that debate and see the bigger picture. Children are foolish by nature. They are selfish by nature. They are immature by nature. Their brains aren’t even fully developed by nature. My job as a parent is to lead them in the direction of honor, respect, kindness, and self-control. This is not a post on spanking, but it IS a post on parents guiding their child’s behavior as a shepherd cares for their flock with their rod. When a sheep is wandering outside of the safety zone, a shepherd uses his rod to guide him back and lead them where they should go. The heart of this verse is about helping our children move away from foolishness through corrections and guidance. If you want to decrease their foolishness, you have to increase your teaching.
Bullying is an imbalanced use of power that operates out of intimidation and control. Bullying starts in the home, not on the playground. Before you call a family meeting, do an Internet search on the characteristics of bullying. Ask your children what bullying means and what it looks like to bully someone. Role-play different situations and talk about how each person may feel if that happened to him or her. Now talk about what it could look like in the home, how it would make siblings feel, and discuss creative ways things like sharing and communicating could be done to show respect for others. Why are the weapons of fear, intimidation, and control not healthy options? Create an anti-bully pledge card and ask if they would be willing to make an agreement to abstain from bullying their siblings. In the days ahead, when you hear sharp tones or see aggressive or inappropriate demands between siblings, go to them and, in a respectful tone, remind them of their pledge not to partner with intimidation and control. Ask them how they could handle the situation differently.
As a family, write out pledge cards like this: I will not bully others. I will not leave anyone out. I will help others who are being bullied. If I can’t stop a bully, I will tell an adult. I care. I can help. I can make a change! I will stand up for what is right. The end of bullying starts with me! I, _____, pledge not to be bully. Signed _____ (me), Signed _____ (Mom & Dad). Let’s send our children back to school with a wider understanding of how to be kind to those who are different.
This lesson was taken from our Character Counts SOAR parenting magazine. If you are interested in more activities, you can purchase your digital copy here: Character Training SOAR Magazine – Let the Children Fly
When the kids were younger and would violate one of our household rules, such as no hitting, I would say to them, “Check your belly,” which means how does your belly feel right now. Sin never feels good or brings peace. I was helping them see that it wasn’t just about their performance or obeying the law but that it does not profit them to sin. As the years have rolled on, we have zeroed in on this principle of “how does your belly feel?” as this is where we gauge our peace. If you don’t have peace, no matter the circumstance, chances are you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Peace is His presence, and we want to be in peace at all times.
Our pastor shared a story about buying a pack of gum for cheap. He went in the next day, and they had raised the price because the clerk had made an error the day before. Our pastor digs in his pocket for the change to make up the difference. The clerk says it was his error and that he owed nothing. His response has never left me. He said, “If I am faithful to give you what is yours, God will be faithful to give me what is mine.” A few days later, I let my son play the video game at the table of our restaurant. When we got in the car, he showed me $7 that he ‘found’ under the video game. I heard our pastor’s words in my mind and immediately turned the car around to have my son explain to the waiter what had happened. My son didn’t do anything wrong, as he clearly thought it was lost money, but not making it right would have made it wrong. The following day I got tangled in L.A. traffic and ended up in a lane that required me to pay $20 for parking. I told the attendant I would just drive through and exit. While doing so, I made a comment that the guy would never even know if we just slipped into a parking spot, but my daughter instantly said, “But Mom, that would be dishonest.” Once again, I heard, “If I am faithful to give you what is yours, God will be faithful to give me what is mine,” and we drove off. Teaching children about character and modeling it ourselves is so valuable to the Father.
Empowering children to obey fully and completely the first time (Deuteronomy 28:1). Expose your child to horses, whether that be taking a field trip to a horse farm, simply pulling off the side of the road near one, getting a video from the library, or finding them on the Internet. They are so beautiful and powerful. Talk about how a horse is powerful on their own, but when the bridle is in its mouth, they are trained to obey the rider right away. All the rider needs to do is gently move the reigns to the left or right, and the horse automatically goes in that direction. They are not stubborn or demanding of their own way; they simply follow the rider’s commands. Explain to your child that God wants us to respond this way to His instructions. He doesn’t just want us to obey in the end but wants us to do so fully and completely right away.
In the days ahead, when you need your child to follow your instructions, remind them of the character of a horse. Often when my children were younger and not following the instructions I had given them, I would simply say, “Mama needs you to be a horse right now,” and they all knew that meant they were behaving in a way that was the opposite of what I had instructed. It was an excellent tool for when we were in public as it spared them the embarrassment of being called out in front of others.