As the parent of small children, I would often tell my children not to do this or that. At times I could see a confused look on their face that brought back this memory from my childhood. I realized I was not helping them by just telling them what not to do; I needed to help them by telling them what to do.
That realization only complicated matters for me, because at times I didn’t know what I wanted my child to do or what was the “right” thing to do, I just knew I didn’t want them to do what they were doing.
While taking the time to think through situations we didn’t like and actually pondering what would be a better way for our child to act, my husband and I began to see a pattern developing.
First, we noticed the need to identify the character trait lacking in any situation. Again, this required not just labeling but understanding what we meant and expected when we declared a character trait.
For example, what does it mean to obey? We may all think we know what that means, but do we? As we named a character trait we defined it in a way that made sense to us. So we define obedience as: doing what you are told, when you are told and with a good attitude.
This made it possible for us to distinguish if a child had obeyed. If a child had not fulfilled all three parts of obedience then they had not obeyed. O boy, that made discerning so much easier.
Secondly, we wanted to help instill that trait into day to day situations.
But what did that instilling look like?
This was not an overnight thing, but we fashioned a model we call: ESP (explain, show and practice) Character Training.
We explain to our children what we saw that we didn’t care for, what character we believe is lacking and how that situation could be handled better. A quick disclaimer: explaining is not lecturing. Lecturing is a surefire way to turn a child’s eyes glossy. Explaining is relating, discussing a real and relevant situation. In general, to keep from lecturing, use as few words as possible.
Next, we would show and practice what we wanted the scenario to look like next time. When the children were younger, say under ten, we would literally role play situations. Sometimes we would role play how NOT to do situations too. Why? Because it can be fun to be silly and “act” in ways mom doesn’t normally allow. Also, now mom and dad know the child knows what not to do and the child can be held to that line.
As our children got older we would just talk through what a situation should look like to “show” them what we wanted.
Pointing out character throughout the day, week, and month became standard. We would praise success and explain, show and practice when we came up short. Again, when our children were small we had a time set aside each day that we would practice character. One benefit of this “regular” time was it made it “normal” to discuss character and how to act when they got older.