Have you ever taken a long drive for a family vacation? When you’re packing to go, can everyone bring everything they want? No, of course not. When taking a trip and the space is limited, we must consider what is necessary for our trip and what we need at our destination, leaving behind those things which are non-essential. And in our journey toward heaven, we don’t have much space. In fact, the only thing we can take with us is who we are – more commonly known as our character.
“A character formed according to the divine likeness is the only treasure that we can take from this world to the next. … How important, then, is the development of character in this life.”
– Child Guidance, 161
With this in mind, should it not be the goal of every Christian parent and teacher to develop in their children a character fit for Heaven? And even for those who do not have a particular Christian persuasion, should it not be their goal to train their children to be upstanding citizens with high moral values?
Welcome to the first in a series on character development here on the blog of A Thinking Generation Ministries. We will be taking a look at the principles and practical steps in the development of character.
What really is character?
“Mental ability and genius are not character, for these are often possessed by those who have the very opposite of a good character. Reputation is not character.” – Child Guidance, 162
Many times in our analyzation and development of character, we focus on the external. Our society and schooling teach us to focus on the performance, the display, the actions, the words, the abilities, or the reputation of an individual, and we label this character. But, while these things may be indicators of the character, they are not the actual character. Character is much deeper than these external things.
“True character is a quality of the soul, revealing itself in the conduct.” – Child Guidance, 162
Character is who we are. It is the true quality of the individual. Character may be displayed in the actions, but character is not the actions themselves. Character is not a part of us that we put on display occasionally, but it is our entire being – all the time. Character is not our reputation, or what people think about us, or who they think we are, but who we actually are.
Character is like a tree and reputation is like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. – Abraham Lincoln
A good character is a capital more valuable than any amount of money. It is not disturbed by difficulties surrounding the individual, but rather shines the more brightly amid challenges, and brings a rich reward when all earthly possessions are swept away. Integrity, firmness to principle, and perseverance under difficulty are qualities that we all should seek earnestly to cultivate. A good character is power – a power which makes the possessor strong to do good, strong to resist evil, and strong to bear adversity. Surely every parent will want to seek to develop the best character possible in their children!
Steps in building character
In each blog post in this series on character development we will discuss a step in the development of character. This week:
Step 1: Start young
A study in the journal Child Development found, “A child’s conscience emerges surprisingly early in development. Its foundations are laid in the first 3 years of life.”
The first three years of life! What an important time for parents to focus on character development!
An article from the Urban Child Institute states, “Early experiences affect the quality of [brain] architecture by establishing either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all of the learning, health and behavior that follow.”
Brain science tells us that the foundation for spirituality, cause-to-effect reasoning, emotional intelligence, behavior management, moral understanding, and conscience is laid in the first 7 years of a child’s life. To be clear, that’s not to say that these character qualities cannot continue to develop in later years, but the foundation is laid in early childhood.
What’s more, science is clear that many of the things we consider essential in early childhood, such as academic training in the three R’s, are actually better learned a bit later than we usually start teaching them to children – closer to 8 or 10 would be a better age.
So would it be correct to say that character development is best focused on in the early years and not later, while academic training is better learned in later childhood and not in the early years? Yes, that’s exactly correct according to the science. Is it possible we are getting our priorities switched around in the education of our little ones? Should we not make it our highest priority to focus on character during the early years? Should not every mother and every father make it their highest goal during those first precious years of their child’s life to develop a character fit for eternity? Should not this endeavor take up the most time, the best energies, the most intense focus, and the greatest care?
“It is during the first years of a child’s life that his mind is most susceptible to impressions either good or evil. During these years decided progress is made in either a right direction or a wrong one.”
– Child Guidance, 193
Surely, every Christian parent will, in light of the evidence, leave the non-essentials behind and focus on what is most important. Surely they will lay aside the latest fads, the calls of social media, the pull of worldly success, or even the opinions of their friends, to focus on the development of a beautiful character in their children.
It has been said, “Give me a child until he is 7, and he will be mine forever.” Parents, focus on the development of character, on good decision-making, on morality and spirituality, now, while it will make the most impact! Develop a relationship with your child. Be their best friend, and seek in all you do to guide their little feet in right paths.
Stay tuned for the next post in this series on character development. In the meantime, head over to our store at aThinkingGeneration.org and get our latest DVD series, Educating A Thinking Generation, in which session 6 is entirely focused on the development of character.
- Mother-Child Discourse, Attachment Security, Shared Positive Affect, and Early Conscience Development. Child Development, Vol. 71, No. 5 (Sep.-Oct., 2000), pp. 1424-1440
- Baby’s Brain Begins Now: Conception to Age 3. Urban Child Institute