The Character Tool helps us focus more on building our child’s character rather than punishing our child’s behavior. It’s a proactive approach focusing more on the matters of our child’s heart—spending more time teaching and training them in the skills and values that are most important to our family (kindness, love, respect, flexibility, responsibility, resilience, hard work, teamwork, self-control, patience, etc.—also The Family Identity Tool). The Character Tool also helps us set healthy boundaries based on what is best for our child’s character rather than what “their friends are doing” or “what other families are doing” or “whatever the rest of the world is doing”. As part of our Family Identity, we get to decide what character traits we want to instill in our children and make our parenting decisions accordingly.
Applying The Character Tool can be done by simply focusing on the character behind the behavior…not the behavior itself. Good or bad, you can find the character trait your child is exhibiting or lacking.
- When your child makes a good choice…
- Instead of just–“Thank you for carrying in the groceries.”
- Try—“Thank you for carrying in the groceries. That is so helpful.”
- Instead of—“Thank you for telling me that you broke the glass.”
- Try—“Thank you for telling me that you broke the glass. You showed such honesty and integrity when you told me the truth. That’s what our family does (The Family Identity Tool). We build trust with each other. And even though you broke that glass, you didn’t break our trust and that’s what matters the most!”
2. When your child makes a bad choice (first remember that it’s just a bad choice NOT a bad child)…
- Instead of—“Stop hitting your brother!”
- Try—“Gentle hands.”
- Instead of—“Stop being lazy and do your chores.”
- Try—“Chores teach you respect, responsibility, teamwork, and hard work. Now, where would you like to start and how can I help?”
- Instead of—“I can’t believe you lied to me about breaking the glass!!! How dare you!”
- Try—“That really breaks trust when you lie. In our family, we tell the truth and build trust even when we make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s what we do after a mistake that’s most important. Let’s practice doing The 4 A’s of Making Mistakes together so you can be truthful, show integrity, and do the right thing.”
3. In setting healthy boundaries…
- “You can be frustrated or upset, but you may not hurt yourself, others, or anything in our home. Do I need to Bear Hug you or can you go to the bathroom and wash your face to reset?”
- “There are no violent video games, TV shows, or movies allowed in our home. We love you and as a family, we value what we put into our minds. We also value life and don’t want to be a part of anything that promotes destroying it.”
- “Getting social media can destroy a child’s self-esteem and creativity. We want you to have time to grow in confidence and find out who you are and discover the gifts and strengths God has given you.”
4. Before you go anywhere or do anything…
- To a restaurant—“Here’s an opportunity to show respect for others and gratitude for our food.’
- To a store—“We are only getting groceries that are on our list and nothing else. This is a chance to practice respect for others, self-control, and listening and obeying.”
- To church—“Sitting quietly is hard sometimes, this will give you a chance to show respect for God and others, self-control, and good listening skills.”
- Waiting for something—-“Waiting helps you grow in patience and patience is when you can wait for something without complaining, griping, or fit-throwing. Now what can we do while we are waiting?”
- On a trip—“Things don’t always go as planned and that helps us learn to be flexible and resilient. If we can’t do our Plan A, we will work as a team to figure out a Plan B.”
- At mealtime—“You don’t have to like everything on your plate. But in our family, we are grateful for it. So, you don’t have to eat it, but you do have to be grateful for it.”
- At bath time—“I know you don’t like getting water on your face, so you can be a little tougher and I’ll be a little more gentle and as a team, we can make this not so bad.”
Applying The Character Tool might be a little more effort and a few more words, but those words are powerful! And our effort will help our child’s moral development as well as help them recognize all the ways they are demonstrating or can demonstrate and grow in good character. And kids WANT to grow in character. Character-building in our children is a short-term parenting effort with long-term benefits!
I saw my daughter sneak into the kitchen, quickly grab a french fry off the tray on top of the stove, and run out of the room. I could have yelled: “Get back here and put that french fry back right now! That’s not OK to be sneaky like that!” Or I could have thought: “It’s just one french fry, so it’s really no big deal.” But then I remembered my long-term goal in parenting…to raise honest, respectful, and trustworthy kids who show integrity and do the right thing even when no one’s watching. So instead, I calmly and respectfully said: “Sweetheart, come here please. I saw you come in and take a french fry without asking. It’s not that big of a deal, but remember that in our family, we tell the truth and we don’t try to be sneaky, so if you’d like another french fry, just please ask for it, ok? Now, practice saying: ‘Mommy, may I please have another french fry’ and I’ll say: ‘Sure! Thank you for being honest and asking for it.'” She did. And we hugged and she got herself another french fry and walked out of the kitchen smiling.
Today, it was just about a french fry, but tomorrow (and as she gets older), it’s going to be about bigger things. And it is my prayer that because I took the time to teach her the good character traits of honesty and integrity on the little things, she will face those bigger things that come her way with honesty and integrity too!
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8
Lord, focus our parenting on the goodness you have deposited in our children. Even if it seems we have to look very closely to find it sometimes, we know it’s there! And in our parenting efforts, give us the energy, the wisdom, and the endurance to take the time to teach our children the good character traits You want our them to develop for Your purposes in this world.