Character Building - My Top Six Traits
What do you think are the most important character traits for children to have ingrained? The list might differ a bit for each family, but it is a good exercise to think about what you really want.
When teaching parenting classes, I have asked that question a number of times. Invariably, parents are stumped when asked what the most important traits they feel they want to impart to their children. It is much easier to think of the character traits we don’t like. We don’t like them to lie. We don’t like laziness. We don’t like when they mouth off or are rebellious. But think about it proactively. What do you want?
Parents would do well to have a heart to heart discussion and ask one another, “What do we want our kids to be known for?” Scripture says,
Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right. Pr. 20:11 (NLT)
My husband and I wanted our kids to have a great work ethic. When our kids got old enough we divvied all the household chores among the five of them. Anything they could learn to do, I was to teach them. They learned to do dishes, do their own laundry, cook, shop, and clean. This wasn’t about me getting out of my duties, this was equipping them to have a pleasant life. Everyone helped, everyone enjoyed the results of a clean house, good food, and so on. Certainly, life was not going to do everything for them when they grew up.
We taught our kids to work hard, then to play hard. When it was time to work, we were all in. We cleaned thoroughly. We did homework to the best of our ability. We were some of the hardest workers at church service projects. At home, we rewarded hard work and efficiency. We taught our children when the work was done you could play all you wanted.
The book of Proverbs talks about work 17 times. One example:
Wise words bring many benefits, and hard work brings rewards. Pr. 12;14 (NLT)
We also taught them that when we went camping or visited someplace, we left things as good or better than when we came. We cleaned up our trash. We put our fire out completely. Have you ever gone to a park and wondered why the people who were there previously didn’t bother to put their trash where it belonged? Were they just too important to be bothered? Were they too self-centered? Probably.
We taught our kids to think of others – how does our behavior affect the next person who would use the space we were leaving? It also required a little personal dignity, caring enough to do the right thing and be well-respected.
Hard work is also about self-respect. You have to live with the results of what you do. You will be known for what you do – and don’t do. Stahnkes are not slackers or users. Even when we borrowed something (like a tool), we returned it clean and in good shape, often better than when we got it. If we borrowed my parents’ car or someone’s pickup truck, we returned it with more gas in it than when we got it.
When our oldest son got his first job at a small grocery store, it wasn’t long before he was asked if he had any siblings old enough to work also. He was such a good worker and had such a good attitude, they hoped to find more help like him. Our now-grown children are known at their various jobs for their excellence and productivity. A friend recently said, “Are all Stahnkes so amazing?” Happily, I could say, “Yes!”
There is a tough verse in Psalm 15 that says, “The righteous man keeps his oath even when it hurts.” It is easy to volunteer when everyone is talking about taking on a project. But if you have to show up on a hot day to do yard work, it is less attractive when the day gets there. Sometimes we must keep our word when we really would rather not. Teaching this to kids, talking about it is a powerful thing. We used to explain to the kids that some days Dad did not really want to go to work. He would rather stay home and watch movies all day. But what would we do if he got fired? We needed him to keep that job, keep his commitments.
There is a certain amount of work required in relationships. Sometimes it takes the form of patience and kindness when someone is grouchy. Sometimes it means sticking with a spouse through hard times. Parents MUST be the example here. There will be times when our marriages are not fun. There will be times when raising children will not be joyful. There will be disagreements, arguments, and other problems. Sometimes relationships are just plain hard work. Stahnkes embrace the hard work.
The best things in life don’t come easily. Teach your kids to love hard work, to have the self-respect to be known for it.