Growing Kids' Character and Personality
|My colorful flowers ⚘⚘⚘|
Two small boys, about the ages of four or six, were trying to act tough, banging small shoulders on the locked gate. I turned to Ella and asked, "If they want to play with you, why don't you let them in?" It was better for me that other children come over to play with my kids than for my own to be away while I worry over whether they're behaving well or not.
"They don't want to play. They just want to fight," was the answer. The little, smart guys couldn't obviously get through the gate by their shoulders, so they went to get a carpenter's bench (from where? I had no idea), and tried to climb over the fence. Three of my kids are older than them but these little ones are so fast and ferocious that anyone would be afraid of them. We know their father, but the kids haven't met, so I know they're harmless to some extent.
As I was looking on trying to decide whether to intervene or not, I saw that my kids were behaving according to what I've known about their temperaments. Ella got on her bike to get away but ended up biking around in circles around the yard, while crying the whole time. She was shedding real, fat tears and looked so distraught. I looked for my oldest to see what he was doing. He was fooling around with the boys, making faces--- not taking them seriously at all--- even as they were climbing the fence. The second was reasoning out with the boys, using words as much as she could, but it didn't work as they seemed to be beyond reasoning. As for the youngest? She went to open the gate, went out and confronted the boys face to face. With both of her hands on her hips, she gave them some stern scolding. Woah! The boys didn't take it too well. That made me step out to intervene, afraid that things might escalate out of hand.
I called out, "What's going on here?" The boys eventually scurried away upon seeing me and left some worker's bench behind. Despite the tension, especially the one Ella was feeling, I was quite fascinated at how each of them reacted to the situation that was before them. Their reactions were right-on with their temperaments and their growing personality.
TemperamentPreviously, I wrote about Kids, Temperament and Motivation, wherein I speculated on each of my children's temperaments. This time, I'm going to go further into children's growing character and personality, with some research on child development and the inspired writings of Ellen White to help me.
At ten, I can already tell how my firstborn child responds or reacts to situations based on his temperament, something that is naturally his. The same as with the others. Even in utero and birth, my children had shown distinct temperamental traits that set them apart from each other. And as they grow, these inherited traits have grown more obvious.
Research on Child Development identified nine temperamental traits in infants, which are fairly stable and endures through adulthood. However, childrearing practices can modify temperament significantly. And it is well to remember that these characteristics are neither "bad" or "good, but instead depends on the world the children are in and the demands expected from them. [For a brief info, I've listed them below.]
*Nine Temperamental Traits1
-activity level (how active the child is generally)
-distractibility (degree of concentration and paying attention when the child is not particularly interested)
-intensity (how loud the child is)
-regularity (the predictability of biological functions like appetite and sleep)
-sensory threshold (how sensitive the child is to physical stimuli: touch, taste, smell, sound, light)
-approach/withdrawal (characteristic responses of a child to a new situation or to strangers)
-adaptability (how easily the child adapts to transitions and changes such as switching to a new activity)
-persistence (stubbornness, inability to give up)
-mood (tendency to react to the world primarily in a positive or negative way)
PersonalityPersonality is an interaction between temperament, environment and character. It is how children behave and how they are perceived by the people around them. In the long run, it determines how they will relate to other people and the world around them. Erik Erikson's eight phases on social development helps in understanding how personality develops. [I've included a brief list below of the phases from Infancy up to School Age.]
*Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development1
Infancy Learning Basic Trust or Mistrust (Hope)
Toddlerhood Learning Autonomy or Shame (Will)
Preschool Learning Initiative or Guilt (Purpose)
School Age Learning Industry or Inferiority (Competence)
CharacterAs for my children's character, I am simply glad they were not one of the boys who were "attacking", although I know they can get precocious at times. And if they are, it is my God-given duty as their mother to teach them what is right and wrong.
Looking into how children grows cognitively and develop moral reasoning, Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, explored this area and found that children are more concerned about outcomes than intentions. Children also learn best by cooperative decision-making and problem-solving situations. Lawrence Kohlberg, an American psychologist, extended into adolescence and adulthood Jean Piaget's work. He believed that moral character develops slowly and evolves over time.
But what is right and wrong? God's Moral Law--- the Ten Commandments--- is explicit on this. Time and again, throughout history, it shows that idolatry leads to debauchery and immorality. When we don't acknowledge God and reject His commandments, we lose our sense of accountability to Him and towards each other.
Accordingly, as we get to know our Maker, moral character develops. By faith we work to develop our characters. But we need to consider that each of us are distinct from each other, with our own temperament and different experiences. We cannot assume to make others like ourselves. In a garden, there are different flowers, all varied in its own beauty. So it is in God's garden. Most especially, we should not expect a well-developed character in our children when we haven't taught them. If we have neglected to teach them, then we can not expect much from them.
What can parents do to aid their children in developing strong moral characters?
1. Decide to be the Parent.
Whether you planned to be a parent or not, when you decide to take responsibility of the child entrusted to you, determine to be the parent he/she needs. Nowadays, I've seen so many children who are taking their parents for a ride, and the parents thought it's okay. Sometimes, it goes so far that nobody can tell who the parent is. Maybe it's a backlash from the Freudian days that tells us that repressing a child's natural drives would lead to neuroses, that's why we allow our kids too much freedom. But no, for our children's sake, we need to guide and provide discipline to our children for them to develop a moral character.
As God has chosen Abraham to be the Father of Nations, so has He chosen us to be the parent for our children. It is our God-given duty to direct our children.
"For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just" (Genesis 18:19).
2. Start Early.
Pre-natal influences have a big role in developing temperament, character and personality. That is why, God was very clear in His command to Manoah and his wife in how to bring up their child, Samson, even before he was born.
The Scripture accounts: "Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean." (Judges 13:2-4) And this was even before she conceived!
I can trace my children's temperamental traits with the habits I had while pregnant with them. Somehow, they acquired my attitude, behaviors and reactions to my experiences while still in utero. That's why I believe that "the basis of a right character in the future man is made firm by habits of strict temperance in the mother prior to the birth of her child.... (and) this lesson should not be regarded with indifference." (AH, 199.)
We should "teach (our) children from the cradle to practice self-denial and self-control. Teach them to enjoy the beauties of nature, and in useful employment to exercise all the powers of mind and body. Bring them up to have sound constitutions and good morals, to have sunny dispositions and sweet tempers. Teach them that to yield to temptation is weak and wicked; to resist is noble and manly. (CPTS, 127).
We need to promote the development of internal self-controls through clear, consistent expectations and create opportunities to practice moral reasoning and actions from the time our children are young.
There is not much that we can do with the genes we pass on to our children, but we have the responsibility and the God-given power to provide the right environment and experiences so our children will have strong moral characters.
Children learn best when parents are warm and caring. When we understand our children's natural reaction to certain situations, we can prepare them to overcome or avoid problems and adapt our parenting to their particular temperaments to best provide guidance and ensure success in their development.
As parents, we provide our children the tools for life by what we teach and most importantly, by being role models of moral behavior. Ellen White, in her book Ministry of Healing, wrote about the far-reaching influence of a parent. "What the parents are, that to a great extent the children will be. The physical conditions of the parents, their dispositions and appetites, their mental and moral tendencies, are to a greater or less degree reproduced in their children" (371).
4. Provide an Environment that Promotes Character-building
Kindness begins at home, so does honesty, generosity, gentle manners, cheerfulness, usefulness and loving acts. If it doesn't, where can our children start to develop a character that will bless others and would fit them for heaven?
"God designs that the families of earth shall be a symbol of the family in heaven. Christian homes, established and conducted in accordance with God’s plan, are among His most effective agencies for the formation of Christian character..." (TC 6, 430). Having an atmosphere that promotes moral growth is one must.
The choice of a home matters, though. An African proverb says, "It takes a whole village to raise a child" and so, it is true. The character of a child says a lot of not only his/her parents' parenting practices, but also about where he/she has been brought up.
Let's not forget Lot's daughters. They have one righteous father. But after being taken out safe from Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction, they committed incest out of fear that their lineage will end. (Read Genesis 19.) The Bible is not a wishy-washy book and it records even humanity's sins for future generations to avoid. And parenting is not a wishy-washy job. We should know where we stand and act on it that our children will know and decide where to stand. We are to learn from Lot and his daughters,
"The sinful conduct of (Lot's) daughters was the result of the evil associations of that vile place. Its moral corruption had become so interwoven with their character that they could not distinguish between good and evil." (PP, 168).
Parents, our parenting practices goes a long way, so does the environment we provide for our children. We are advised to "go where, apart from the distractions and dissipations of city life, you can give your children your companionship, where you can teach them to learn of God through His works and train them for lives of integrity and usefulness." (MH, 367)
Allow other people to teach and train your children, too. Because, yes, it takes a whole village... If I have caught up with those two youngsters, I would have taken the opportunity to teach them. And when my kids act badly, I hope that the adults around them won't let it pass by, but would take the time to discipline them. I find that my children sometimes listen more to other authority figures than they do to me, like their Sabbath School teacher or our church pastor. And I encourage them to do so.
5. Point them to the Divine Pattern
While being their mother, I don't want my children to be like me. (It would be a nightmare!) We have to encourage our children not to be anyone's shadow. They should be their own person.
And I may be my children's first teacher, one who will play a continuing role in their lives, but I know for a fact that I can not give them a well-developed character--- one that is simulated after the Savior, and one that they can take to heaven with them. But I can point them to Him, the only one who is Righteous. Oh, how thrilling it would be to be like Him!
"When we submit ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garment of His righteousness. Then as the Lord looks upon us He sees, not the fig-leaf garment, not the nakedness and deformity of sin, but His own robe of righteousness, which is perfect obedience to the law of Jehovah." (COL, 312).
The work of developing our character is a work of a lifetime and which is not humanly possible when done by ourselves alone. By faith, out of love for our Savior, we submit to Him and He moves our being.
For me, while temperament is wholly my child's, but which can be guided as he grows up; character is God's, imputed by faith. And these two, together with the third component, environment, makes up a person's personality. But while personality is what we need to get by in this world, a character of faith and integrity is what our Father in Heaven is after.
And so, I watch and pray. I observe my kids, and pray for wisdom to guide them and for Him to give them His character.
May He find us faithful with what He has entrusted us. And may He find them true to His promises and purpose for them.
1Feldman, R.S., Development Across the Life Span, 4th Ed, Pearson
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