We’ve been talking about good character for several weeks now, but I wanted to start listing some specific ideas for teaching character to our children. I thought I’d start right where Jesus does:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus wasn’t teaching anything new here. In fact, just as we learned last week, holiness is always defined for us in God’s law. Jesus upholds this thought as He quotes from Leviticus 19:18.
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am YHWH.”
Teaching our children to love their neighbors as themselves is an extremely important lesson. Since a child’s first “neighbor” is his brother or sister, then I think that teaching them to love their siblings is one of the first lessons they should learn in the home.
God’s Word agrees.
“Do not hate your brother in your heart” (Leviticus 19:17).
(How interesting that this is the verse right before “love your neighbor as yourself.” In fact, if you’re interested, the entire chapter includes numerous ways to love our neighbors.)
God’s law, torah, or “teaching,” as recorded for us in the first five books of the Bible, seems to mean a literal sibling when it uses the word brother. However, throughout the entire Old Testament, God seems to include all of the children of Israel in the word brother. In the New Testament, the word brother is expanded to include all who are “of the household of faith,” even Gentiles. Again, it seems to me that our children desperately need to learn how to love their literal “brothers” so that they will grow up to know how to treat their spiritual brothers.
I really enjoy being on Facebook. Most of all, I enjoy interacting with my friends and family from all over the world, hearing what is happening in their lives and “watching” their children grow up.
However, it made me very sad recently to watch an acquaintance on Facebook talk about how her children were behaving. Her kids were having a huge disagreement which included hateful words and a bit of punching, and she turned it into a joke. It was just a “cute” story to share with all her friends.
God doesn’t think sibling fighting is funny.
Jesus’ own brother, James, wrote:
“Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it” (James 4:11).
Jesus’ best friend, John, wrote:
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1 John 3:14-15).
Those are some pretty strong words! Do you see what I mean? Fighting isn’t funny — and we cannot allow it in our homes.
So how should brothers and sisters treat each other?
They should share and show kindness. I think the Bible said more about this than anything else. This is really hard for any little boy or girl (and for me, too, in all honesty), yet it’s a true way of loving our neighbor like we wish they would love us.
“If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother” (Deuteronomy 15:7).
“Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest” (Deuteronomy 23:19).
“When you make a loan of any kind to your brother, do not go into his house to get what he is offering as a pledge” (Deuteronomy 24:10).
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17).
“If you see your brother’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to him. If the brother does not live near you or if you do not know who he is, take it home with you and keep it until he comes looking for it. Then give it back to him. Do the same if you find your brother’s donkey or his cloak or anything he loses. Do not ignore it. If you see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help him get it to its feet” (Deuteronomy 22:1-4).
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
They shouldn’t allow their brother to sin. This isn’t “tattling” (because we’ll talk about that below). This is seeing a brother do something wrong and caring enough to go to him privately (and then to Dad and Mom if needed as Matthew 18 says), because they love him and want to warn him.
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15).
“If your brother sins, rebuke him…” (Luke 17:3).
“Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt” (Leviticus 19:17).
“But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11).
“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us… Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 15).
“If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life” (1 John 5:16).
They should tell the truth about each other. This is important, because parents are also called to righteously and fairly judge between brothers (Deuteronomy 1:16) and not show partiality (Malachi 2:9-10). Honesty is the code of godly families.
“The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 19:18-19).
They shouldn’t speak badly of one another. It’s easy to let words get angry and mean in the home. It just kinda sneaks up on us! Yet the Bible warns us that it should never happen. (This is where we can find tattling — getting someone else in trouble just because it gives us pleasure.)
“You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother’s son” (Psalm 50:20).
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:22-24).
“You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (Romans 14:10).
Arguments and contentions should be out. We need to realize the seriousness of these sins. Remind your children of the disastrous consequences that came to biblical siblings when they fought (ie. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, David’s sons, etc.).
“An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel” (Proverbs 18:19).
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:14-15).
They should be taught to forgive each other. We also need to teach our children to say, “I was wrong, and I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times'” (Matthew 18:21-22).
They should never allow a sibling to entice them to sin. God especially warns of the temptation to follow false gods, “just to keep the family happy.” You need to begin teaching this principle to your children while they are young.
“If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him” (Deuteronomy 13:6-8).
They should give up some of their “rights” if they might cause their brother to think he might be sinning.
“One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables… Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way… If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love… It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall” (Romans 14:2,13,15,21).
So how do we teach our children to show true love to each other?
I strongly advise that you return to the book of Deuteronomy for a list of many teaching methods that you could apply to teaching kids to get along and show love.
Here are some starting points:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
1. These commands are to be on our hearts first. Moms, we need to really meditate on how God wants us to treat others! No, it’s not easy, and yes, it seriously goes against our hearts’ inclinations. However, there is no way our children will treat each other lovingly if they don’t see it modeled in their parents. (Ouch…)
2. Impress them on our children. To impress means to point and pierce. It sounds rather emphatic to me. I strongly urge you to sit down with your children (probably over several days) and teach them clearly what God’s Word says. If they are very little, make some rules that you just won’t budge from, especially impressing Ephesians 4:32 on them (helping them memorize it): “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
3. Talk about these commands when you sit, walk, lie down, and get up. This is where we parents are required to consistently hold our children to God’s standard — all the time. Not only do we hold them to the standard, but we talk about it — all the time. (Of course, as God knows us very well, this will help us live it out in our own lives, too.)
4. Place reminders all over your house. God says to tie these commands on our hands and foreheads, which means that we need to memorize them and then be doers of the Word in all our activities. We can be creative and write these commands on the doors and walls of our homes. (See Doorposts.net for an excellent “Brother Offended” chart to help brothers and sisters.)
Today has been a great “case study” on character studies. First, we search God’s Word for what it says on a topic, then we check our own hearts, then we impress God’s holy standard on our children, consistently applying it and talking about it all day long.
See? Teaching “character” is easy! (wink…)
I would love to hear what you do when your kids do argue/fight. Mine don’t say hateful things, or punch each other, but this summer was particularly bad in arguing, taking offense, offending the other in the silly little things. Most of the time they are best friends and will move mountains for each other, but it seems to be that or the extreme opposite, even for just a few moments. I pulled out my creative correction book (by Lisa Welchel) and implemented some ideas. We went over and over most of the verses above. But the reality is, the arguments do happen. We are human and sinful, as are our children, and I can’t imagine that your kids never argue. What it would be very helpful, probably for most of us is the ways you deal with the arguments. My friends and I were discussing this, she said the same was true at her house this summer. Even though we do do some school all summer, we don’t do nearly as much. We both think that getting back into the school routine has helped immensely. But can you give practical ideas on dealing with the arguments please? Thanks Anne. You are a blessing. Now I’m hoping this actually posts. The past few times my posts have disappear and been lost in cyber space!
I have to laugh because it seems like my kids have had several fights with each other since Friday morning when I posted this. Talk about humbling…
If you don’t mind, I’m going to post on this topic next Friday because it seems like a topic that many people would like to hear. But basically, my kids were born with an average size of human, sinful nature, and we certainly have to train and correct as much in our home as in anyone else’s.
By the way, the ideas listed by the others below were *excellent.* Thank you, everyone!
Thank you, Anne, this is a welcome reminder. We use Doorposts materials, too, and have found them to be a tremendous blessing since they are so Scripture-focused. The blessing and cursing charts with appropriate rewards and consequences are particularly useful. We have found that having set rewards/consequences helps little ones stop to think about their actions.
The consistent teaching of the Word over the years has produced fruit. Using the Bible to teach God’s expectations has helped our children internalize these lessons, and trained them (over time) to exercise self-control. Smaller children, by reason of their immaturity, will take more time to train in this fashion. It takes time, patience, and lots of repetition, but it works, praise God, it works. I just read your Deuteronomy article. It’s printing out now for future reference in my teacher’s notebook.
By the way, love the new header for your site!
Anne, What a wonderful post!! I do not tolerate arguing in my home, either. It DOES happen, that is certain, and when I need to get involved, I do my best to encourage them to look at the situation from the other’s perspective and really try to imagine how the other feels. It has helped them to be empathetic to not only each-others’ feelings, but those of their friends, too. When they forget that there are many ways of viewing the same thing, I take them to a room in the house and tell them to look, REALLY look, at the room. Then I take them out of the room and have them each describe, in front of the other, ‘exactly’ what the room looked like to them. After they are done, I remind them that it was the same room they were both looking at, yet they saw it differently. It seems to help……
Thank you for all the fabulous ideas, everyone! I hope readers will come down here and read all your comments, too, because this is where the practical help is! 🙂
Just now getting around to reading this Anne…still trying to catch up on email since the hurricane at the end of August! Anyway, plan to print this out so I can read again…thanks so much for addressing this topic. I need it!