Category Archives: moral training

Can character be taught?

To some, this question might be a given. To others, the ability to teach character isn’t so certain. There are some parents who equate character with personality. These are the parents who stand by the idea that character cannot be taught. I agree that personality traits cannot be taught, but character is another story.

Let’s make the distinction between personality and character.

Personality traits include:

  • Adventurous
  • Chatty
  • Reserved
  • Cautious

Character traits include:

  • Respectful
  • Polite
  • Honest
  • Selfless

Personality traits are what make us the unique individuals we are. Character traits are what allow us to peacefully exist with others.

So can character be taught? Most definitely. In On Becoming Childwise, the Ezzos say:

“One of the first challenges for parents is to discover what character traits they desire to see in their children. They also need to determine what traits they don’t want to show up….Think about the teens you know. We have all met teens, pre-teens, and even younger children with whom we enjoy spending time. They are sociable, courteous, respectful, gracious, motivated, and genuine.

“What is it about these kids that make being with them enjoyable? What allows you to have fun with them (and them with you) without having to stoop to a buddy status? There seems to be a common thread between them: These children possess a moral maturity.”

Identifying character traits is just the first step of this years-long character-training process we call parenting. Having established the notion that character can be taught, I will spend the coming weeks discussing the factors that enable us to build a moral foundation within our children. These posts will center on the moral precepts as outlined in Childwise. They are:

  • Teach the way of virtue, not just the avoidance of wrong.
  • Moral training begins in parents’ hearts.
  • Know the why of moral training.
  • Provide the why of practical training.
  • Make moral judgments by examining context.
  • Avoid legalism when giving instruction.

You can walk away from this post (and future posts on moral training) with one of three attitudes. You can feel burdened by the idea of having to teach your children moral principles. You can ignore the idea altogether. Or you can be inspired by the fact that you can teach your children to behave in a way that will earn you (and them) accolades from friends, teachers, family members and even strangers.

I hope it’s the latter. Stay tuned for more!


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Character foundations: respect, honor and honesty

I flipped open my Growing Kids God’s Way workbook just now and came upon a passage I had previously highlighted. I’ve been thinking a lot about my children’s character lately, so it’s fitting that the book opened to this page. Here’s the quote:

“The quality of your character and that of your children is best exemplified by the presence or absence of three attributes: respect, honor and honesty. … Respect, honor and honesty are critical fibers in the moral fabric of our being. To respect our fellow man is to honor him, and to honor him is to live honestly before him. The parent’s job is to take the intangible concepts of respect, honor and honesty and make them tangible—to take their abstract meanings and make them concrete. They must show their children what moral truth looks like,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 90-91).

With this in mind, I looked at the house rules I have displayed on my white board to see if they help accomplish this goal. I have had these rules on my board for quite a while and considered revising them simply because my kids are older, but ultimately I decided to leave them as they are. This tells me that these rules—founded on the basis of respect, honor and honesty—are constants in our lives. Following is a list of house rules you might consider as you expect these character traits in your children.

  • Obey mommy and daddy; say “yes, mommy” and “yes, daddy”
  • Be true in all things; never tell a lie
  • Always use nice words; nasty attitudes are never tolerated
  • Be polite; say “please” and “thank you”
  • Answer when spoken to; say “hello” and “goodbye”
  • Respect and obey adults; make eye contact and respond kindly

As I was writing this, I started to wonder what the real difference is between respect and honor. According to Microsoft Word, the words are synonymous. Yet, there is a wise quote from a 19-year-old girl in the GKGW workbook that distinguishes the two:

“I can never remember a time in my life when I was not required to show all those in positions of authority respect. It is second-nature for me to do so, although it is hard sometimes to respect a person who is in authority over you because of a lack of integrity in their personal life. It helped when my parents explained the difference between respecting the person and respecting the position. I can always respect a position of authority out of a sense of duty. When I respect someone in authority because of the way they conduct their life, I am honoring them out of a sense of devotion. Understanding the difference between ‘duty’ and ‘devotion’ helps me always respect authority figures,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 91).

I think of respect as being action-oriented while honor is more of an attitude or belief. While our children are young, we ought to expect actions that reflect respect. With such a foundation then, they are well equipped to develop a sense of honor for those things they have been taught to respect.

How well does your parenting teach your children to show respect, honor and honesty?

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Tuesday Triumphs: Character development

Just last week, a parent who frequently volunteers in William’s classroom complimented me on his character. She said, “William is such a confident child, but he’s sweet and kind-hearted, not arrogant.” Her implication was that confidence often brings out arrogance and that William proves that the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Her comment made me smile, of course, but more than that, it made me wonder what it is that makes him this way. There’s no doubt that he is confident. And he is a very sweet child.

When I think of his confidence in school, I immediately feel validation for our decision to delay Kindergarten. His birthday is just two weeks before our state’s cut-off date, so no matter which way we went, he was going to be either the oldest or the youngest. There was no middle ground. His first year of pre-K, he was the youngest. His immaturity was blatant. His second year of pre-K (same school, same teachers), he was one of the oldest, and his teachers (and I) were amazed by what a different child he was. The confidence and maturity he gained made all the difference.

But aside from his age compared to his classmates, I knew there was more, especially since he is in a mixed-age class right now. I know that I would never accept arrogance from my child, but how exactly did that translate in a way that an outsider would notice? What I couldn’t figure out was whether this is just his personality or whether I did something as a parent to encourage this in his character. Then I picked up my copy of Childwise, and the first page I turned to gave me my answer:

“Certainly a child is born with a particular temperament on which personality is built. However, these do not excuse a child from appropriate character training. The combination of virtues instilled in a child’s heart must be the same [no matter his inborn temperament].

Character, in fact, is not about a person’s temperament or personality. It is the quality of a person’s personality and the moral restraint or encouragement of his temperament. It is the outward reflection of the inner person. Our character reflects our morality and our morality defines our character. They are inseparable,” (pg. 89-90).

To be honest, I have never consciously worked on William’s character. I remember once finding a list of character qualities and wanting to incorporate them into our daily routine, but it never really happened. What I think happened is that by implementing the Ezzos’ parenting philosophies, building his character became a natural by-product of all of the other work we had been doing.

The book makes it clear that we are to teach our children to respect authority, respect property, treat others with kindness and encourage service to others. By spelling out the character traits we should instill in our children, the Ezzos have validated all of the traits that I have always wanted in my boys. And not only do they spell it out, they give me a road map to achieving it.

Ultimately, what this shows me is that the relatively minor details of my parenting—like developing a schedule, defining a discipline plan and working towards first-time obedience—are all part of a much bigger effort in character development. I’m happy to see that it’s all working as I had hoped.


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Tuesday Triumphs: Thinking of others

If there is one lesson that I have learned in my six years of parenting, it’s that my marriage must stand at the center of all parenting decisions. Avoiding child-centered parenting doesn’t always come naturally, but there’s no doubt that it helps us teach our children to think of others and not only of themselves.

The idea is that parents who build their lives around the child can end up with self-centered children. The child learns that his parents and family put his needs above all others. By extension, he learns that his needs and desires are more important than anyone else’s. And while it’s not usually a conscious parenting decision, the child is never taught to think of others.

Babywise parents, on the other hand, are taught to build their family identity with their children, not around their children. There is a common saying among Ezzo circles: the child is a welcome member of the family but is not the center of it.

Now on to my Tuesday Triumph. Just yesterday, after pulling a muscle in my back over the weekend, I was in pretty severe pain all morning. I had to push through because I had to get William off to school. I winced and whimpered my way through a shower, and when it came time to get them both dressed and fed, I told them that I would need their help.

Initially, I wasn’t expecting much of a change in their behavior. They typically try to squeeze in every minute of play they can get before we head off to school. But both kids seemed genuinely concerned and immediately responded to my request for help. William helped me make their breakfast and pack his lunch. And Lucas was particularly obedient with every request I made of him. I could even see a change in his eyes.

The experience offered subtle evidence that putting my marriage first has paid off. I’m happy to see that at the young ages of three and six, they are well on their way to learning that they must think of others before themselves.

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Tuesday Triumphs: Bravery

Of all the qualities that I strive to instill in my kids, bravery is not high on the list. I want my children to cry when they feel like crying, but when I see bravery in my kids, I do feel a sense of pride. It shows me that they are learning to navigate this world and are able to manage their emotions in the most troubling of circumstances.

Last Thursday, right after I put Lucas down for his nap, I got a call from William’s school. The minute the director started to speak, I began to worry, as I never get calls from the school. It turns out William was injured quite seriously on the playground. While hanging from a rope, he leaned his head back and hit his eye and cheek on a very unforgiving metal pole.

With no neighbors at home, I pulled Lucas out of bed and went to pick William up. As you can imagine, William was in quite a bit of pain, yet he handled the experience very bravely. While it was certainly warranted, he didn’t shed a tear. It wasn’t that he was too uncomfortable or too self-conscious to cry, and nobody would have minded.

In my mind, his brave reaction speaks to the level of maturity William has reached these past few months. I believe this maturity stems from the high standards we have learned to expect of him at home, many thanks to the Ezzos’ principles. The bravery and maturity he exhibited in this incident prove to me that he feels confident in the world around him, no matter what it may throw at him.

One bonus from the whole incident was all of the attention he received from friends and neighbors. A bonus for mommy was that Lucas had no trouble going back down for his nap. My brave boy and healthy sleeper both put a smile on my face that day.

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Maturity in children

Have you ever received a comment from a stranger that validates your parenting? Amid the daily ups and downs I have with my kids, I occasionally get such comments. I got one just last week.

Someone told me that William, my oldest, seems particularly mature for his age. Mature. We have our struggles, especially when his SPD (sensory processing disorder) rears its ugly head. If we get basic good behavior, I call it a good day. So why did this word strike me? I can think of a slew of other characteristics that I’d rather be complimented on:

  • Well mannered
  • Confident
  • Selfless
  • Respectful
  • Smart

But the word mature is especially flattering. Mature is how I would describe the children of the parents I most respect. When a child is mature, it means to me that they have all of these qualities and more. When a child is mature, it tells me the child has been taught how to confidently navigate his way through this world.

When a child has been taught how to navigate the world, he is given the foundation that allows him to develop confidence. With that foundation, the child is free to learn and grow.

What is that foundation built upon? Obedience. Yes, everything circles back to obedience.

“Freedom is not found in autonomy, it is found in obedience.” (Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp, p. 27)

I’m reminded of a story my contact mom once told me. She said she and another mom were on a hike with their kids and reached a particularly treacherous area. The path was surrounded on one side by water and on the other side by a steep drop-off. It was a dangerous spot. The other mom held her children’s hands tightly to keep them from running away and to keep them safe. She couldn’t trust them.

Meanwhile, my contact mom had taught her children to obey her word. She was able to tell them to stay near her while still letting them walk freely. Because of their characteristic obedience, these children were given the freedom to appropriately explore their world. They could be trusted to keep themselves safe, and because of this obedience, they were allowed more freedom.

So do I want my children to be happy, respectful, confident and a host of other qualities? Of course. But will I strive most for obedience and maturity? No doubt.

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Timeout tips

In my last post, I compared the cultural perception of timeouts with timeouts the Ezzo way. Here I’ll offer some tips on how to implement this form of timeout.

Briefly, here is what you don’t want to do:

  • Have him sit for the sake of sitting
  • Have him sit in or near the main area of the house
  • Chase after him to make him sit when he won’t
  • Issue a set time limit of one minute per year of age
  • Tell your child what he did wrong
  • Require a simple “sorry” by way of apology
  • Ignore the state of the child’s heart
  • Give hugs and kisses and assume all is right

When you do timeouts the Ezzo way, you want to:

  • Isolate him by sending him to his room or some other spot away from the main activity of the house
  • Seek a happy and repentant heart
  • Determine the length of the time out based on how long it takes for your child’s heart to be in the right place
  • Allow your child to determine how long he needs to sit
  • Rely on first-time obedience to keep your child in his timeout
  • Have your child tell you want he did wrong, not the other way around
  • Have your child offer a sincere apology
  • Have him apologize to others he offended or have him right the wrong in some other way
  • Follow these tips whether you’re at home or at the store, a friend’s house, in the car, at the park, etc.

Putting these ideas into practice will vary depending on your child’s age. Here is how timeouts work in my home:

My 5-year-old

When William does something wrong, I will immediately send him to his room to sit on his bed. I don’t issue warnings (he’s old enough to know what he’s doing), yell or repeat myself. He’s not allowed to do anything while sitting (play with a toy, read a book or listen to music). If he goes reluctantly, that’s my indication that I will likely need to set a time limit, and I will tell him he will sit twice as long if he doesn’t go right away. I don’t chase after him, drag him by the hand or even follow him upstairs. (Here is where all your work in achieving first-time obedience pays off.)

While he’s sitting, I will walk by his room or peek in on him with the video monitor to check the look on his face. If he’s still angry, I’ll keep him there. If he seems peaceful and ready to repent, I will go in to talk to him.

When I talk to him, I don’t tell him what he did wrong. I have him look me in the eye and tell me. At five years old, he knows what he did wrong. There are times when he won’t look me in the eye, or he will say he doesn’t know or that he forgets. When I hear this, I will walk away and tell him I will come back when he can tell me what he did wrong. I know he knows. When this happens, it’s usually something serious that he did that he really doesn’t want to own up to or say out loud.

When he’s ready and willing to tell me what he did wrong, I will ask him why it was wrong. This is where your moral training pays off. You want a true reason. Something along the lines of “I disrespected you” or “My unkindness hurts my brother’s feelings” is acceptable. You need more than just “It’s wrong” or “It’s bad.”

When I can tell that he’s sincerely repented his actions and knows why they were wrong, we will talk about what he can do to make it right. Usually, this involves looking me in the eye and saying, “I’m sorry for ____.” If he hurt his brother, I will require him to offer his brother a sincere apology while looking him in the eye. There is more to this idea of restoration, which I will discuss in a future post.

Once he has apologized, I will offer my forgiveness by giving him a hug. This allows us to wipe the slate clean and not hold any grudges, which is a huge motivation in disciplining your child.

My 2-year-old

Timeouts are very different for Lucas, who is just 2. His timeouts happen in his crib upstairs or in the playpen we have set up downstairs. When he is old enough to be out of a crib, we will start having timeouts on his bed. Obviously, first-time obedience is not as much of a concern here because I simply pick him up and put him in.

With Lucas, I react just as quickly and swiftly as I do with William. Again, he knows what he did wrong. His offenses are different, but if he deserves a timeout, it means he knows better.

I won’t set a time limit for Lucas either. I will peek in on him or check the video monitor to see the look on his face. With Lucas, I can often check the status of his heart just by listening to him. If he’s crying or screaming, he’s not giving me a happy and repentant heart. In this case, I will go to him the minute he quiets down.

As I get ready to discuss his offense, I double-check his heart. When I bend down to look him in the eye, he will either look me in the eye or he will turn away or even lie down in the crib. If he looks me in the eye, I know he’s ready. If he turns away, I know he needs more time. If this is the case, I will walk away, telling him I will come back when he’s happy.

Since Lucas isn’t very verbal, I will tell him what he did wrong and why it was wrong. I will ask him if what he did was wrong, expecting him to nod his head. I will ask him if he understands, upon which I always get a “yes, mommy.” I will then tell him to tell me he’s sorry, which he says in his own toddler way. If there is more that needs to be done (like pick up the food he threw on the floor or tell his brother he’s sorry), I have him do that as soon as I take him out of the crib. (Again, here’s where your work on first-time obedience pays off.) Then we do hugs and kisses.

As you can imagine, getting his heart in the right place is what’s most important for Lucas. There is less to discuss simply because he’s not as verbal as William. The discussion is more one-way, which is fine. As he gets older, I will require him to tell me what he did wrong, why it was wrong and make it right.

To conclude, make sure you follow every step of the timeout process to ensure your child learns from it. If his behaviors aren’t improving, it’s possible you’re missing a step and need to reevaluate your timeouts. Above all, stay calm. Your child will obey and respect you more readily if you react swiftly and calmly. And don’t forget those hugs and kisses. Your child needs to know that you love and forgive him and that the end of a timeout means a fresh start.


Filed under discipline, first-time obedience, moral training