Helping Your Children Develop Character

Today, many people float through life without deciding who they want to be or how to become that person. If children decide at an early age what kind of person they want to become, and then plan to become that person, they will have more successful lives, and become more Christ-like. Character, like every other goal, requires thoughtful and prayerful planning. This family night lesson will help your children decide who they want to be.

Mormon FamilyThis family night is based on a segment of a forthcoming book called, “What We Need to Know and Do” by Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen

Learn how to have a family night.

Show your children a series of pictures that demonstrate how something has changed over the centuries—perhaps cars, clothing fashions, a technology, or a specific toy. This should be something with obvious visual differences. Ask them why these things change (technology, but also fashion and tastes.)

Explain that some things change just because they can—people like to think up new looks and new styles. Some things, however, never change. Ask them if they can think of anything that never changes. Wait for someone to suggest God’s laws. Sometimes practices change. For instance, we don’t follow all aspects of the law of Moses anymore—but eternal truths do not change, and God doesn’t change. His standards don’t change, even when the moral standards of the world change. Invite your family to help you make a list of gospel truths that never change—honesty, love, family, etc.

Hand each person a blank sheet of paper. Invite younger children to draw a picture of themselves and then, with help if needed, to write all around the picture words they would like people to say about them. Help them understand you mean words like honest, kind, or helpful.

Ask older family members to pretend they have died and God has personally agreed to write your obituary. Ask them to write one that shows the kind of person they would like God to describe. For instance, they might use adjectives that show a moral person, and they might list accomplishments that show a Christ-like life. They should de-emphasize worldly accomplishments—this is a spiritually focused obituary, focusing only on what God would care about. Both groups can refer to the list you made as a family.

Tell them they can become the person they’ve described, but they must plan to do so. They become this type of person by choosing their character and then working to become the person they want to be.

Tell them it’s okay if they’re not sure what sort of person they want to be just yet. What are some ways they can find out what kind of person God wants them to be? If no one suggests it, ask them if studying Jesus’ life could help them. If they model their life on the life of the Savior, they will have the ideal character. They can also study what He taught people to be.

Make a plan with your family to read the New Testament together. As you read, stop and record each teaching that shows you the kind of person Jesus was and the kind of person He taught us to be. Write one characteristic on each page of your notebook and allow someone to decorate it with drawings, pictures from magazines or other sources. Monitor to be certain the choices are appropriate. Each family member should take a turn at the decorating.

Tell your children that sometimes living a Christ-like life seems like a burden, keeping you from having some of the fun your friends seem to be having. However, decisions made outside of God’s laws always have unhappy consequences later. In the long-run a Christ-like life is safer and easier. We can avoid many—but not all—trials by living as God teaches us. Share some examples that fit your faith’s teachings. For instance, if you don’t drink alcohol, point out that although the tendency toward alcoholism can be inherited and therefore difficult to control, a person who never drinks will never become an alcoholic.

Ask them to commit to first decide to decide wisely. You may want to make a sign that says, “First, choose wisely” to hang in your home. Then tell children the safest and most productive way to live well and to develop good character is to plan and choose our actions, rather than to just wander through life. But choices are only helpful if they’re wise choices.

The authors of the above-mentioned book suggest this acrostic to help your family remember what character is. Make a poster of it, spelling the word “character” down the page and writing the definitions beside each letter:

  • Ccourage in the face of adversity; Hhonesty in the midst of moral relativism; Aalignment with unchanging principles; Rrespect for the rights of every person; Aadmitting (and correcting) mistakes when you make them; Ccourtesy in the presence of antagonism and arrogance; Ttrust in a world of deceit; Eempathy for the disadvantaged; Rresilience in the wake of disappointment.

You will need to explain what these mean to your children.

Tell the family our character is often not decided in big-life altering moments, but in the small, every day moments. When we make small changes, they can make it easier to take the next step. The question is whether we want to take them toward Christ or away from Him and it’s the little decisions that decide.

Play the following game with younger children. Create a series of small decisions children like your might make each day. Set out a way to mark a path—paper squares, for instance. Have the children play this like a life-sized board game. Each child chooses a strip of paper from the box. The papers contain a choice someone made and how many steps to take forward or backwards. Good choices move you forward. You may want to place a picture of Jesus at the end. If your children don’t do competition well, give each child his own path and don’t have them compete.

Choices might include:

Your mother asked you to watch the baby. You decided to read a book and forgot about the baby, who pulled a lot of books off the bookcase and made a mess. Building good character or bad? Take two steps in the proper direction.

You saw a new student sitting alone at school during lunch and invited her to your table. Building good character or bad? Take four steps in the proper direction.

Always make the good choices lead to more steps than the bad, in order to keep your child moving toward the goal.

For older children, ask each child to write a difficult decision someone their age might have to make that impacts character, such as ditching school or skipping a party to study. Have each child share what he wrote and discuss how the choices will impact a person’s character.

Challenge your family to develop a plan to become the person described in their obituary or picture poster. You may want to follow this with a family night on goals.

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