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Teaching Kids How to Develop Strong Character

Mary Armand

Teaching kids how to develop strong character is not an easy task for parents. Although most of us would love to be described as a person of strong character, modeling, and teaching character to our kids is a difficult job.

Strong character is so important to our family, that we have intentionally focused on how to develop strong character.

How do we demonstrate strong character? When we exhibit Godly traits such as love, honesty, kindness, and compassion which lead to a life of inner peace, confidence, and strength.

Learning to Focus on Strong Character

When my son was born and my parenting journey began in September of 1997, learning to focus on strong character was not my only concern.

As I admired my newborn’s face, I thought my son was going to do great things; be extraordinary. How did I know that? Well, I was going to be the best Momma that ever lived!

My husband and I decided, before becoming parents, to teach our children how to develop strong character as well as how to excel in life.

I read books and did everything in my power to make sure he was happy, successful, funny, smart, friendly, popular, sporty, oh and of course, loved God and others.

On the second day of my son’s life, my dream of having an extraordinary child took a detour when I tried to breast feed. He was not interested.

I read pamphlets and followed the rules and brought in the lactation specialist, but he refused to latch on.

My extraordinary baby was not perfect and no matter how hard I tried to feed him, he did not change his decision to sleep instead of eating. But this was not a reflection of his character.

This minor disappointment started the unraveling of our unrealistic expectations of greatness and we began the long process of learning how to develop strong character more than their achievements when raising our children.

People with strong character, regardless of their level of greatness, demonstrate how to be extraordinary in life.

Developing Strong Character Begins with Recognizing the

Value in the Ordinary

When my son was 4 years old, we enrolled him in a soccer league. I envisioned everyone in the stands shouting his name and talking about his athleticism and potential for a career as a soccer player.  

Once again, my illusions of greatness proved a fantasy as I watched my son sitting on the field picking wildflowers and clovers instead of playing soccer.

No matter how hard the coaches tried, he did not change his decision to inspect his surroundings instead of run after the ball. But these decisions did not affect developing strong character.

The problem with our desire for extraordinary children is that most of us seek the same thing. We strive to make our kids stand out, but the majority of us are ordinary.

Developing strong character begins with recognizing the value in the ordinary. Ordinary is good; it just means most of us are normal, average people and so are our kids.

Linda Nitschke, the wise mother of a family friend who has raised 4 ordinary children with strong character says, “our favorite family saying has been, we are all extraordinarily ordinary!”

Understanding the value of being ordinary lets us relax in the knowledge that most of us will not participate in the Olympics, invent a world-changing product, travel to the moon, or become a superstar.

(For our family a lot of likes on TikTok is probably our biggest shot at stardom!)

In an article in Pray with Confidence, Dawn Ward writes,

” Understanding your influence as a mother begins when you cease to measure your child’s accomplishments as either extraordinary victories or epic failures. Instead of focusing on the daily highs and lows, try keeping the big picture in mind.”

For our family, the big picture is learning how to build strong character happens while our kids participate in their normal, daily activities. We try to find simple opportunities to teach them to be humble, loving, encouraging people that are invested in the people around them,

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What is Strong Character?  

As my son grew and went to middle school, I remember meeting one of his teachers. I thought, surely, he was going to mention how intelligent my son is and how well he is doing in his class and how he displayed strong character.

Instead, as we shook hands, his teacher looked at me and said he couldn’t figure my son out. He thought my son was preoccupied and inattentive in class.

I looked at his teacher dismayed, the unraveling of greatness continued.

No matter how hard the teacher tried, my son did not change his decision to process quietly in class instead of leading class discussions. But this also didn’t exclude him from developing strong character.

By this time, I was starting to get the message to elevate those qualities that mattered most in my child’s life ”honesty, kindness, humility, forgiveness and mercy” instead of seeking greatness in those things that didn’t matter as much.

What is strong character? The desire and not the requirement to exhibit virtuous traits with a Godly moral compass. This is possible when our heart is aligned with the teachings of Jesus.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

Proverbs 4:23

A child with strong character can do great things, but a foundation of good character will lead to a fuller life which is more important and rewarding than success or achievement.

Up to this point, none of my kids are known outside their circle of love and influence, but the Manning family of football fame is known by most.

In the documentary, “The Book of Manning”Archie Manning, the patriarch, says all of his children exhibited athleticism at a young age but none were allowed to play organized, contact football until they entered seventh grade.  

Due to the premature death of Archie’s father he wanted to spend quality time with his boys and focus on strong character first.

This story of how to develop strong character, coming from the father of 2 highly successful Superbowl winning quarterbacks, supports the priority of character over achievement.

As parents, we are the primary example of Godly character for our children. What they learn from us begins the formation of what they display to those they interact with in the world.

Focusing on Godly Character will Develop Strong Character  

To God, we are all extraordinary. He loves each one of us and our children exactly the same.

When we love and serve God, we start to choose traits that are part of His Godly character. Not because we have to, but because we want to.

After we make the decision to learn and display Godly character, someone has to teach and model strong character for us.

Focusing on Godly character will develop strong character and two building blocks of strong character are honesty and kindness.

Honesty Develops Strong Character

Being an honest person goes way beyond telling the truth. It is the revelation of someone’s heart.

Teaching our children to be honest and comfortable with how God created them is the first step in how honesty develops strong character.

We can then instill the character traits of love and compassion toward others. This is where a spirit of honesty is birthed.

When my children are dishonest, I try to discover what is driving the decision to conceal the truth, and it is usually a heart condition or selfish desire.

When teaching how to develop strong character, I tell them that honesty is a demonstration of true courage and the foundation of other virtues that constitute strong character.

 “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”

1 John 3:18 NLT

Kindness Develops Strong Character

When my son was a toddler, he grabbed a toy at the playground when another child dropped it. When the child returned and wanted the toy back, my son refused. “You bully,” said the other child’s mom.

I don’t think my son, at that age, was being unkind; he just wanted to play with that particular toy.

Kindness develops strong character and to develop kindness, we must learn to display consideration and generosity to those around us.

When children are young, like my son in the playground story, it is easy to explain their unkind behavior perceived or actual–and take on the responsibility. “They didn’t mean it, I’m sorry.”

But at some point in a child’s life, usually, sooner than we think, they do ‘mean it’ and that’s when teaching the merits of kindness becomes essential.

Modeling and teaching kindness are foundational in learning how to develop strong character.

“be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:32 NLT

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Bible Stories about Kindness and Honesty

Teaching our children Bible stories about characters who are imperfect but display kindness and honesty is a great way to start the conversation.

These stories provide a visual of traits we see in people with strong character and help us develop strong character in ourselves and our children.

Two Bible stories that focus on characters with the traits of kindness and honesty, Zacheus and the good Samaritan, are examples of how God can impact a person’s heart and cause a desire to display His character.

A Bible Story about Zacheus  

Zacheus was a tax collector in the city of Jericho who heard that Jesus was passing through his town. Apparently, Zacheus was not a tall man, so he climbed into a tree to see and hear Jesus.

Zacheus was so moved by the message of Christ that he completely changed the direction of his life.

He transformed from a dishonest tax collector to a generous benefactor giving one half of his possessions away. The heart change was followed by a change in actions.

The story of Zaccheus teaches us how to develop strong character.

A Bible Story about the Good Samaritan

Jesus tells a story about a Jewish man robbed and left to die on the side of a road. Two people pass by the man as he lay dying. Finally, a Samaritan man (who was considered disgraceful by many) notices and stops to help him.

In the story, Jesus teaches us how to develop strong character through the actions of the SamaritanHe shows compassion and displays the characteristic of kindness. He takes the injured man to an inn, cares for his wounds and pays for the man’s stay.

There are many lessons to learn about the parable of the good Samaritan. What the story says to me is that the kindness in our heart is evidenced when we display it in our treatment toward other people; especially those that are weak, hurting or forgotten.

This is another display of what strong character looks like.

 “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

Colossians 3:12 NLT

Books about How to Develop Strong Character

Along my parenting journey, I have read many books about how to develop strong character in kids, including the three listed below.

I may not agree with every example and theory but was able to glean some insight from each book to adapt to my parenting story.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

Shepherding a Child’s Heart is written for parents with children of any age, this insightful book provides perspectives and procedures for shepherding your child’s heart into the paths of life.”

Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster W. Cline

Parenting with Love and Logic shows you how to raise self-confident, motivated children who are ready for the real world. Learn how to parent effectively while teaching your children responsibility and growing their character.”

Boundaries with Kids by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend

“Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend provide the help and guidance you need for raising your kids to take responsibility for their actions, attitudes, and emotions.

With wisdom and empathy, they take you through the ins and outs of instilling the kind of character in your children that will help them lead balanced, productive, and fulfilling adult lives.”

How to Build Character in Kids

We can demonstrate how to build character in kids by using these tips.

  1. Build character in kids by showing them to delight in following God and seeing His wonders
  2. Build character in kids by modeling strong character and exposing them to others who display strong character
  3. Build character in kids by talking about character traits that matter
  4. Build character in kids by setting age-appropriate boundaries
  5. Build character in kids by praying for them and for ourselves as their parents and mentors

As my children have grown, I have learned that parents can’t focus on everything. We have to carefully choose what values to embrace and trust God with the rest.

The hardest part for me is, ultimately, children make their own decisions and learn natural consequences from their decisions regardless of how hard we try to control them and reduce their pain.

At some point, every child will have to decide who they are and what kind of life they want to live. They will have to choose to build strong character in themselves.

Today, as I gaze at my adult son, he is an extraordinary human being in ways that matter-kind, loving, gentle, and smart.

I know he will make mistakes in his life and may or may not go on to do something special (although this “inattentive” boy is now an Engineer).

But my greatest goal for his life remains; I pray he serves God and others and continues to learn how to develop strong character throughout his life.

“When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”

Billy Graham

What about your family? What tips have you used to learn how to develop strong character in your children? What character traits do you focus on in your parenting?

Would love to hear your story in the comments.

This post originally published on ButterflyLiving.org