I was at a Christian bible camp one summer in Italy and at the end of the week we were to vote on three categories, awards if you will. It was a little too Who’s Most Likely to Succeed for me, but the whole camp was in Italian so I was doing my best to pay attention and learn a few things, culturally and spiritually. One of the awards was for “best character.” The 75 some odd campers voted on both a girl and a boy who, as it turned out, were the two most charismatic of the group. A.K.A., they were like class clowns, always making everyone laugh. When the camp director was announcing the winners he actually said “I think you guys had the wrong meaning of character.” I was so sure I had missed that in translation but, as it turns out, that is what he said. And that is what everyone had done. No offense to those two, of course.
But isn’t that illustrative of our society today? It’s more important to be popular than it is to be upstanding, wholesome and stalwart. Our character is one of the most important things about us because it’s something that we are in charge of. We can’t always help our circumstances, we can’t make other people treat us nicely, and we aren’t in control of all that life throws at us, but we can be people of strong character.
I think society today has watered down the meaning of character. “The ends justify the means” and other such idioms are prevalent today and it seems like no one is really very concerned about raising (or being) people of high moral values and ideals. Sure, no one is perfect. Of course, we don’t always do what we should, or even what we want to. I’m not saying that we will be 100% perfect 100% of the time. Who could? But I can – and do – strive each day to be a woman of the truth. A woman who honors her family and others, and a woman who can be counted on. I want people to say “You can depend on her” and so I aim to be consistent.
How can we help raise consistent kids?
1. We enable consistency.
One of the worst things we can do when we’re aiming to be consistent and reliable is to have eyes bigger than our stomachs. If you know what I mean. If you have too many obligations, too long to-do lists, and are burning the candle at both ends to get things done I am setting myself up to fail. None of us can be consistent when we’re constantly having to choose which things to get done and which things to let go, and then apologize profusely for. If we prioritize what really fits our family vision then commit ourselves purposefully, we won’t bite off more than we can chew. If we have our children in four extra-curricular sports, music lessons, and are trying to teach them a third language then they won’t be able to do it all. I think in some life seasons the thought “do as few things as possible as well as possible” is appropriate and necessary.
2. We model consistency.
This is the most important. If we are consistent there is a high chance our children will be. Why? Because kids tend to turn out like their parents. That is both reassuring and distressing. Reassuring because if we are doing our best then we can tone down the life lesson lectures at every turn. Distressing because, well, we aren’t perfect. If I consistently provide them with food, adhere to our family routine, and meet obligations to them and others then they’ll see that consistency matters. It matters if I said I would do something by Thursday. If Wednesday comes and it isn’t done, that isn’t the time to call the other party and apologize, it’s the time to get in gear and get it done. We honor others by keeping our word consistently and if we show them how it’s done then the battle is half won.
3. We enforce consistency.
There are multiple opportunities throughout the day to enforce consistency in the home. Children clean up their toys after each play session, regularly. They consistently clear the table and put dishes in the sink. Independent playtime and naptime happen predictably. These are ways, without having to create scenarios simply to teach a moral, that we can teach our children the value of consistency. By naptime each day my two toddlers are tired. Since we consistently go down around that time, they are ready and willing. Discipline every time you are able and praise every time you are able.
4. We praise consistency.
Our children pick up on what we say. That can be both good and bad. If we notice and remark on their consistency they will consider it a quality to strive for. If we praise them specifically (e.g.: “Thank you so much for wiping the table, I appreciate that you do that each time you’re finished with a meal.” you show them that it is both worth the effort and commendable. If you don’t notice their efforts then they will likely feel it isn’t something worth keeping up.
Even as I write these Character Training posts, I feel the pull. The pull that says “just let kids be kids and don’t give them so much pressure.” The pull that says, “no one is perfect, don’t create an unattainable standard.” I think that, when done naturally, raising consistent children will not be anxiety inducing nor will it create an environment of perfectionism. I want to have high character, but I am no perfectionist. Our character is important to God, but our slip ups forgivable.
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