Category Archives: Parents Crosslink


The Homework Wrestling Match

Which of the following two scenarios best describes your home?

(1) Just as the supper dishes are lifted from the table, books take their place and are arranged by little hands impatient to go to work. Minutes later the only sounds are the faint scratching of pencil lead and a child’s voice tinged with awe as he or she shares some newly discovered tidbit of knowledge.

(2) As the supper dishes are lifted from the table, the word homework triggers the start of a verbal wrestling match as your child whines and argues and deflects every encouragement to get the work done or whines for help in solving every problem.

Continue reading

Depression: No Laughing Matter

Talk about a conversation killer. “So, I’m working on a new article and the topic’s depression.” The small crowd gathered around the party table seemed suddenly very intent on their meatballs and chicken wings.

“No comment,” said one, but still I pressed, knowing several there had struggled with depression in the past.

“Really? No comment?” And then the comments came: tales of crying for no reason at all; stories of indecision, even with choices as simple as sock color; recollections of sudden, angry outbursts; and then the soft voice of the wife of a depressive: “I didn’t even realize what was happening. It came on slowly, in little pieces.” Continue reading

Parental Guidance Required

22804059404_d3d332cb08_oAs I came into the mall, I saw a kiosk near the doorway with a poster of smiling adults and children, designed to draw my attention. The top of the kiosk had three letters: PGR. I wondered that that means, so I looked a little closer and picked up a brochure from the rack. Well, PGR means “Parental Guidance Required.”

The idea did not surprise me because that mall has had a history of trouble with teens and preteens. They would enter the mall without parental supervision and then “hang out.” But that’s not the worst of it. The unsupervised children would find friends and friends’ friends and soon turn into a sizable group that adopted the mentality of a gang. They intimidated shoppers, some- times simply by their number. On some rare occasions, they accosted other groups of teens and police had to be called in to restore order.

Parental Guidance Required: PGR is one way the mall is attempting to control the problem as well as limit the number of teens and preteens that can simply “hang out.” The lesson of William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies gets repeated in our contemporary shopping experience: Children left on their own will exhibit some of the baser aspects of human behavior.

As Christians, we shouldn’t be surprised that children left unsupervised will get into trouble. Each one of us could cite an example from our own childhood or—perhaps, and—from our experiences with our own children. Parental guidance is required.

We want our children to grow
up and be able to find the internal strength and discipline to act like Christian young people when we are not with them. A tall order! We want them to resist following the dominant leader when that leader moves in a direction that neither God nor we would approve. But how?

We are redeemed by Christ and have a wonderful hope of life in heaven. That is ours by God’s grace and not because we have “behaved” in such a way as to earn it. That gift is ours, and it belongs to our children too. It was there for our parents and grandparents as surely as it will be there for our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. We are forgiven and redeemed.

That is the motivation for our behavior. We live because we respect and honor what God has done for us. Our children sometimes need to understand the consequences of behavior that is not in keeping with God’s will. The hard lessons are all part of finding the path they should go. Parental guidance will apply discipline and, at times, allow the results of mistakes to demonstrate which behavior will bring difficulty.

Parental guidance will also look to encourage correct behavior. Reminding children why they are to act as Christians requires effort. Making Jesus part of the conversation and life of our families not only honors him, but it brings his great blessings to bear on our lives and the lives of our children. When Christians, young and old, understand the depth of the love and forgiveness of Christ, they can better connect his love with their behavior. We live for him because of the blessings we have from him.

Parental guidance is not just in the words we speak or the lessons our mouths express. Parental guidance also comes from our examples and patterns of life. Our children watch us sometimes more carefully than they listen to us. Let Christ’s love motivate you in what you say and do. Then pray that the Lord will keep your children in his love so they too may be motivated to live as Christian examples even when not under your direct parental guidance.


Prepared by the staff of Parents Crosslink.

From Parents Crosslink © 2012 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Image by Ray Boyington is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Four R’s for Christian Parenting

Parents have often wished: “It would be great if children came with an instruction book, so we would always know what to do and say while raising them! If only we had a clear set of parental directions—ones we could rely on and refer to as we make the myriad of child-rearing decisions each day. And it would help if they were easy to remember!”

To answer that wish, I offer “Four R’s for Christian Parenting” as a base, a compass, a guide for all those decisions. The four R’s are four key characteristics parents want
their children to develop:

REDEEMED: Trust they are forgiven

RESPECTFUL: Treat others with love

RESPONSIBLE: Take ownership of their actions

RESOURCEFUL: Think of ways to get things done

When faced with a parental decision on what to do or say, 
the answer will be to do or say
that which best helps your child be respectful, responsible, or resourceful, all the while being assured that he or she is a redeemed child of God. Reminding our children of these key characteristics will give the proper foundation to all we are trying to teach. Let’s take a closer look.


Both parents and children are sinful. We will make mistakes. Our actions and words will be hurtful instead of helpful. Rules will be broken. Sin still calls for repentance. Discipline, correction, and consequences will be needed. But in every situation, all involved are still also REDEEMED.

While Satan, the roaring lion, 
will do all he can to make both parents and children feel they are guilty, unlovable, and unforgiveable, our God still loves us and has forgiven us.

That unconditional love and forgiveness we receive from God is the same love and forgiveness we offer to our children. As a matter of fact, forgiving our children when they are rebellious and sinful truly helps us understand the tremendous love and forgiveness of God for us.

What a privilege it is as a Christian parent to reflect the love of God by continually assuring our children that they are redeemed children of God! Some suggestions for keeping the first R—Redeemed—in your family.

  • Demonstrate true joy and thankfulness in being forgiven.
  • Have regular family devotions.
  • Pray continually with and for your children.
  • Model forgiveness as husband and wife.
  • Conclude all discipline with an assurance of God’s and your forgiveness.


We are raising children in a society in which people often fail to show respect for one another. Our Christian homes need to be models of respect. It
all starts with the modeling done by parents. Husbands and wives need to respect one another and their parents, the children’s grandparents. Parents need to treat their children in a respectful manner, treating them as valued members of the family and listening to them.

Discipline needs to be carried out in a respectful manner. Parents need to emphasize the what, where, and when of the misbehavior instead of spending vast amounts of time getting to the why of the behavior. Parents need to help the child change the behavior, not intimidate him or her into doing so. Parents need to provide structure in a child’s life.

Children need to be taught from a young age that showing respect for parents and others in authority is required and has been established by God as the proper order within a family. Dads, recognize your role in assuring that proper respect is shown to Mom.

Some ideas for keeping the second R—Respectful—in your family:

  • Do not argue with your children. They want reasons; they don’t need
  • Don’t fall into the “I want to be my child’s friend” trap.
  • Have expectations of respect 
from your children especially 
when they are young.
  • Be a model of respectful 
behavior in all you do.
  • Talk with your children 
when they witness disrespect in other families and on television. Grab those “teachable moments.”


One of the greatest gifts we can
give our children is helping them to become responsible people—people who demonstrate good judgment, who make God-pleasing decisions on their own, who can be trusted and relied on. To develop responsible children, we parents will need to serve as models. We need to “mean what we say and say what we mean.” We need to carry through on our promises and fulfill our responsibilities to our children. We will need to take the time to give our children jobs and responsibilities and guide them in successfully completing their work. We will need to have clear rules and consequences for our children as they work to develop their rules for living. 
Some ideas for keeping the third R—Responsible—in your family:

  • Recognize that teaching a
child to be responsible will take far more time than simply taking care of the responsibility ourselves.
  • Be responsible to your children by meeting their needs, not their wants.
  • Hold your children accountable; let them suffer consequences
for not being responsible.
  • Have rules that are limited in number, realistic, enforceable, agreed upon by both spouses, clearly understood, and age appropriate.
  • Have consequences that are logical, natural, predetermined, applied every time, certain but not severe, and administered with a cool, calm, and caring attitude.


One of the best ways to help our children into lives of their own is to help them to be resourceful—to be capable and creative especially in dealing with difficult situations. In our sin-filled world, everyone will encounter difficult situations. In school, at work, in relationships, 
we all encounter difficulties and challenges that require the ability to “think on one’s feet” and to find a way to get it done. Allowing or requiring our children to struggle to find their own way to overcome obstacles may be hard to watch, but it is a key way to instill resourcefulness. While we will want to meet our children’s needs, they benefit greatly by having to be resourceful in getting their wants.

Some ideas for keeping the fourth R—Resourceful—in your family:

  • Distinguish between what your children need and what they want. Give your children all they truly need and a small amount of what they want.
  • Allow children to “learn the hard way.”
  • Work to give your children more opportunities than you had, not more things.
  • Encourage your children to find a way to get things done.
  • Don’t run constant interference for your children. (Avoid being a helicopter parent or, worse yet, a stealth bomber parent.)
  • Help children get started on the pursuit of hobbies.


The next time you find yourself stumped as a parent, run through the four R’s and ask yourself, “What decision will best help my child be Respectful, Responsible, and Resourceful, and, most important, how do I reassure my children of their redemption?” Finally, realize that try as we may, we will still make mistakes. It is then that we can repent and rejoice—we and
our children are Redeemed!

pcl_spring_2015Greg Schmill and his family live in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

From Parents Crosslink © 2013 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Celebrating Easter with Small Children

4488629014_28cc332f8e_oEaster Scene in a Pie Pan: Two weeks before Palm Sunday, fill a metal pie pan with potting soil and plant barley or cat grass (available at pet stores). Mist daily. On Palm Sunday, glue a paper figure of Jesus riding a donkey to a wooden craft stick and stand in the pie pan. Use small rocks to make a road to Jerusalem. On Good Friday, make a craft stick cross and add to the display. Construct a simple tomb with rocks. On Easter Sunday, add silk flowers and/or an angel figure to represent Jesus’ resurrection.

Resurrection Eggs: (Many possible variations.) Read the Bible story associated with each symbol placed in a two-piece plastic egg.

  • Sunday: Palm Sunday—palm branch
  • Monday: Jesus Washing Disciples’ Feet—small piece of washcloth
  • Tuesday: The Last Supper—grapes and oyster crackers
  • Wednesday: Story of Judas—coins
  • Thursday: Jesus Praying in Gethsemane—knotted pretzels
  • Friday: Jesus’ Death—small cross
  • Saturday: Jesus in the Tomb—stone
  • Sunday: The Resurrection—butterfly or angel

The Jelly Bean Gospel: In the beginning was God (white jelly bean). God created everything, including Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and brought sin into the world (black jelly bean). Sin separates and keeps us away from God. God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to live and die for us (red jelly bean). Jesus was crucified and buried in a tomb. On Easter Sunday morning (yellow jelly bean), Jesus rose! He is alive (green jelly bean)! Jesus died for us! Our sins are forgiven, and we are part of God’s family (purple jelly bean)! We are so happy (pink jelly bean) because of what Jesus did for us. “Orange” (orange jelly bean) you glad that Jesus loves you? (Encourage the children to learn this story and share with someone else!) (Taken from

Salt Dough Tomb: Use play dough or salt dough (for a lasting effect) and rocks to construct a tomb. Use a clothespin wrapped in cloth to make a simple Jesus figure. Use a clothespin with tissue paper wings for an angel. Role-play the resurrection.

Holy Week Book:

  • Monday: Glue paper palm leaf to the page. Talk about Palm Sunday.
  • Tuesday: Glue paper cutout wine glass and piece of bread to the page. Talk about the first Lord’s Supper.
  • Wednesday: Glue praying hands to the page. Talk about the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • Thursday: Glue a paper crown of thorns to the page. Talk about Jesus’ suffering.
  • Friday: Help your child draw a cross on the page. Talk about Jesus’ death.
  • Saturday/Sunday: Draw an Easter scene. Talk about Jesus’ resurrection! Staple the book together and read it often!

Resurrection Action Story: Jesus died upon the cross. (Open arms wide like a cross.) They laid him in a tomb. (Child goes under a blanket.) Then Easter came and happy day—my Jesus is alive! (Throw off blanket with excited voices!)

Empty Tomb Rolls: 1 (8 count) can refrigerated crescent rolls; 4 regular marshmallows; 3 T. butter, melted; 1 cup cinnamon-sugar mixture.

  1. Unroll crescent rolls and separate.
  2. Place two crescent rolls next to each other, wide ends overlapping, to form a right angle.
  3. Show the marshmallow; explain that white represents the purity in God’s eyes of those whose sins are cleansed by Jesus. Read Isaiah 1:18 and 1 John 3:1-3.
  4. Dip marshmallows individually in butter, then roll in cinnamon-sugar, coating evenly. Place one marshmallow on each set of crescent rolls. Pull up the narrow ends of the triangles and wrap the dough completely around the marshmallow, sealing well. (It’s very important that no gaps remain.)
  5. Explain that each marshmallow represents Jesus’ body, wrapped and placed in a tomb. Read Matthew 27:57-60.
  6. Use remaining butter to brush the tops of the “tombs” and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar to taste.
  7. Bake on a cookie sheet at 375° for 14 min. or until tops are golden brown. Cool 1 min. on the pan.
  8. When the “tombs” are ready to be served, have each person break one open and experience the emptiness of the tomb. Explain that Jesus rose from the dead and his followers were amazed to find the tomb empty. Read Matthew 28:1-9.
    Serves 4.

pcl_spring_2015Special thanks to Karla Aden, Cathy Goplen, Kelli Liesener, Lynette Olson, and Lara Patterson for providing Easter ideas. 

From Parents Crosslink © 2013 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Image by Whit Andrews is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Create a Balance

USAG-HumphreysWatching a child compete for
 the first (or forty-first) time is
 a thrill for parents. They remember their child’s first steps and reflect on that memory as their child flies down a basketball court or across a finish line. Grins cover parents’ faces as their child suits up in the team’s uniform. Bringing up a child is a journey.

Three things are essential for a child to grow into a well-rounded individual. The spiritual training of the young souls entrusted to a parent’s care should be first and foremost in a parent’s mind. Churches, Lutheran elementary schools, Lutheran high schools, and young peoples’ programs in individual churches all exist to assist parents in bringing up children in the “training and instruction of
the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

The second part of the puzzle is the shaping of a child’s intellect. That also is part of the role God gives parents in order to prepare their children to provide for themselves in the future and to use their God-given gifts. Lutheran elementary schools and Lutheran high schools exist to assist parents in fulfilling this God-given role also.

Finally, the third piece is a bit more nebulous. It has to do with developing the rest of what we are—that includes the stewardship of our physical bodies. When Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 6:19,20, that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, he was talking primarily about avoiding sin. We don’t want to desecrate God’s temple with sins of immorality. But it also stands to reason that we are to take care of the bodies that serve as God’s temples. Physical exercise and competition is an excellent means for children to use their bodies in a productive manner and in a way that honors God. Exercise promotes good health. Competing in and being a member of a sports team teaches time management skills, social skills, and self-discipline. The question that all parents have to answer is how hard to push their children in the competitive arena.

Previous generations grew up in neighborhoods, playing all sorts of games and sports. Some organization existed in pick-up games played in neighborhoods, but the kids played for fun. In grade school and high school, they were involved in a sport according to the season (football in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring). School teams were more organized, but children still participated because it was fun.

The world today is one of high competition, even on the grade school level, and competition begins at younger and younger ages. Student athletes often focus on one sport year-round, some with thoughts of college scholarship, or even pursuing a professional career. In reality a handful of student athletes receive scholarships for their athletic prowess, and even fewer make it into professional arenas.

Club teams, summer leagues, AAU teams and competitions all exist in addition to regular school teams. Parents often spend money on team memberships, sponsorships, and entry fees. Time and energy is used up driving back and forth to practices, games, and tournaments. This is not a bad thing, but continuous competitions and pressures to be successful can take a toll on children. Parents must measure the capability of their child to handle the mental and physical demands on a growing body.

Sports competition is a healthy, mentally challenging learning process that teaches children to handle life’s pressures; but it is the spiritual and academic training that molds who the child ultimately becomes. What
a child learns in his or her early years is something that will be influential for life.

It is wonderful to watch a child hit that first homerun or set a school record, but it is important to create
a balance for children in the area of academics and sports. Strong parental support, guidance, and discipline will help a child grow into a well-balanced, healthy adult.


By Jodie Schommer, from Parents Crosslink © 2013 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Jodie Schommer is a teacher at Lakeside Lutheran High School in Lake Mills, Wisconsin, and is the mother of an athlete who is now pursuing her PhD.

Image by USAG-Humphreys is licensed under CC BY 2.0.



Why Wouldn’t You Consider Music Lessons For Your Child?

5336825716_8490e773b5_oThe research is in. And it’s compelling. Music lessons benefit children. And teens. And college students. And middle-aged folks. And senior citizens. Music making provides cognitive, physical, behavioral, emotional, and spiritual benefits. Are you considering music lessons for your child? Wrong question. Here’s the real question: Why wouldn’t you consider music lessons for your child?

The cognitive benefits of music education are well documented:

  • Researchers have found that one- year-olds who participate in inter- active music classes with their parents smile more, communicate better, and show earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music.1
  • Young musicians show advanced brain development and improved memory over children who do not take music lessons.2
  • Musical training (specifically, keyboard/piano) trumps computer instruction in strengthening children’s abstract reasoning skills—necessary for learning math and science.3
  • Kindergartners who are given music instruction score significantly higher on spatial-temporal skills tests than those who do not receive music training.4
  • First graders who received a daily dose of music instruction scored higher on creativity tests than a control group without music instruction.5
  • Music education is a superior way to teach fractions.6
  • Elementary school students who study music are better readers than their nonmusician counterparts.7
  • Musical training helps under- achievers catch up in reading and surpass their nonmusician peers in math.8
  • Secondary school students who report high levels of involvement in instrumental music over the middle and high school years show “significantly higher levels of math proficiency by grade 12.” The data holds true regardless of students’ socioeconomic status.9

There are physical advantages to being a musician too. Learning to
play a musical instrument develops eye-hand coordination needed to learn handwriting.10 Senior citizens who took group keyboard lessons showed higher levels of human growth hormone (HGH) than a control group whose members did not make music.11 The most recent research indicates that playing an instrument or singing actually changes the brain. The musician’s brain is more capable than the nonmusician’s brain of comprehending speech in a noisy environment. Children with learning disabilities, who often have a hard time focusing when there’s a lot of background noise, may be especially helped by music lessons.12

Still not convinced? Consider the effects the study of music has on behavior:

  • “Studying music encourages self- discipline and diligence, traits that carry over into intellectual pursuits and lead to effective study and work habits.”13
  • A 1999 Columbia University study found that students in the arts were more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self- confident, and better able to express their ideas. These benefits existed across socioeconomic levels.14
  • College admissions officers admit that applicants who participate in music have an advantage. They claim that musicians are better at managing their time and are more creative and expressive than their nonmusician peers.15
  • One study concluded that college student musicians are emotionally healthier than their nonmusician counterparts.16

Besides reducing stress17 and job burnout, playing a musical instru- ment helps to curb loneliness and depression in older people.18 
Musicians have an outlet for their emotions. Playing an instrument or singing can be especially valuable to those who find it difficult to express their thoughts and feelings. The
adage “Music provides a window to the soul” is apt. The “tuned-in” listener knows precisely how the musician is feeling. Music unites too. My politically divided hometown lays its differences aside at Concerts on the Square. Amazingly, most music transcends 
the barriers of race, culture, society, education, and class.

There are spiritual benefits to both playing and hearing music too. When young David played his harp for Saul, “relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23). The psalmist David wrote, “My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul” (Psalm 108:1). A sainted professor once told his class that he often played hymns on the piano when he felt Satan’s attacks.

Martin Luther said it too: “I have no pleasure in any man who despises music. It is no invention of ours: it is a gift of God. I place it next to theology. Satan hates music: he knows how it drives the evil spirit out of us.” Playing or singing hymns that convey the truths of God’s Word brings com- fort, hope, and healing to the soul.

What is one of the best benefits
(I arguably call it the highest good)
of music lessons? Your child may have the opportunity/thrill/privilege of using that gift of music in public worship (whether in Sunday school, Lutheran elementary school, or church), to the praise and glory of the benevolent God who endowed your child with that talent. The next generation of church musicians is nurtured and encouraged by parents—like you— who see the Big Picture. They know we need skilled musicians, particularly organists and pianists, to lead us as we sing those “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19) until Jesus returns or calls us home.

The bottom line is that 85 percent of Americans wish they could play a musical instrument. Don’t let your child become a part of this statistic! For all the right reasons, parents, encourage your child to take music lessons!


  1. McMaster University, reported in Developmental Science and Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,
  2. McMaster University, reported in Brain,
  3. Shaw, Rauscher, Levine, Wright, Dennis, and Newcomb, “Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children’s spatial-temporal reasoning,” Neurological Research, 19 (February 1997).
  4. H. Rauscher and M. A. Zupan, “Classroom keyboard instruction improves kindergarten children’s spatial-temporal performance: A field experience,” in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 2 (2000).
  5. L. Wolff, “The Effects of General Music Education on the Academic Achievement, Perceptual-Motor Development, Creative Thinking, and School Attendance of First-Grade Children,” 1992.
Neurological Research, March 15, 1999.
  7. Sheila Douglas and Peter Willatts, Journal of Research in Reading,
  8. Nature, May 23, 1996.
  9. J. Catterall, UCLA, 1999.
  10. Catterall, et al., 1999.
  11. Frederick Tims, reported in AMC Music News, June 2, 1999.
  12. Northwestern University researchers, as published in Neurobiology of Aging,
  13. Michael E. DeBakey MD, leading heart surgeon, Baylor College of Medicine.
  14. Burton, R. Horowitz, and H. Abeles, Champions of Change, Arts Education Partnership, 1999.
  15. Carl Hartman, “Arts May Improve Students’ Grades,” The Associated Press (October 1999).
  16. Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Report, reported in Houston Chronicle (January 1998).
  17. Barry Bittman, Loma Linda University School of Medicine and Applied Biosystems, as published in Medical Science Monitor (February 2005).
  18. “Scientific Study Indicates That Making Music Makes the Elderly Healthier,” American Music Conference, 1998.

pcl_spring_2015By Karen Janke Hunter, from Parents Crosslink © 2012 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Karen Janke Hunter was blessed with parents who recognized the value of piano lessons long before the research was done. She and her husband, Pastor Randy Hunter, reside in Middleton, Wisconsin. God has blessed them with three children.

Image by Camera Eye Photography is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


Building Character

rahegoWe have all met the perennial cheerleaders for the School of Hard Knocks—individuals for whom pain and suffering are the key ingredients to building character. You may be one of them. But intentionally allowing a child to suffer heartache and disappointment would be offensive. And ultimately, building character involves much more than that. So what factors are critical for building character in our children?

By definition, character is a complex accumulation of attributes that distinguish a person or a group of people. One’s character is an individual’s deepest reservoir of strength—the dynamic core of convictions, emotions, and behaviors that defines each person. One author wrote, “Nothing about my being is more me than my character. [Character] provides content for the word I.”*

Unfortunately the correct definition can lead to the incorrect conviction that we have the power within our- selves to form our own characters. We don’t. Character is shaped entirely by external influences. We are forced to rely on others to enter the data that will provide us with our identity and begin forming (or informing) our character. For better or worse, we are who we are because of the people around us. The implication for the importance of careful parenting is obvious.

What does character look like?

The Bible describes somewhere between 40 and 50 character traits (integrity, ambition, courage, chastity, diligence, patience, loyalty, reverence, etc.). Secular virtues are nearly identical to the biblical list. A well-grounded secular character looks and sounds very similar to the words and actions of good Christian character. It’s the heart’s motivation that makes the difference. It’s the connection to faith.

Well-grounded character is always anchored (or attached) to something bigger than the individual. The attachment can be to a physical community (a town or city), a social community (an association, club, or network), a cultural or ethnic community, a religious community, the community of family, or the community of people we associate with daily at school or on the job. The individual character grows from the foundation of the values and beliefs of that community.

Most of us have the mistaken notion that the character of a mature adult is etched in stone. Not so. Our character is constantly changing. In nuanced ways even elderly folks continue to be shaped and reshaped.
The formation of a child’s character, on the other hand, is dramatic and profound. During their early lives children are like giant sponges, absorbing a flood of virtues that are being randomly passed on to them from the most influential people in their young lives. For boys this occurs until age 9 or 10; for girls the accumulation of this mixed bag is usually completed a year or two earlier.

In early adolescence young people begin validating or discarding the virtues that shape their characters. This sorting phase often continues for many years as young adults begin to organize their adopted virtues into a hierarchy that will help them make wise decisions as adults.

Within the community of believers, the pages of Scripture spell out what good character looks like. In nonnegotiable language God summarized his will in ten clearly stated commandments. God’s people have a distinct advantage over secular communities because the standard for shaping Christian character is absolute. God ordained it. Because we are still sinful creatures, we cannot achieve absolute perfection. God’s Son accomplished that for us. But, like Jesus, our approach to living a life of noble character begins with humble submission and selfless sacrifice; we serve others because Jesus gave up his throne in heaven to serve us.

Reaching for the highest goal

In an awkward two-steps-forward- one-step-backward process, one’s character is constantly growing.
The Old Testament metaphor of the journey describes the process well. We read, for example, of the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the Promised Land. Their journey was an on-again, off-again relationship with God. And yes, the Lord did use these years of pain and heartache to shape the character of an entire nation. In the New Testament, Jesus talked about building one’s house on a foundation of solid rock in preparation for the inevitable hurricanes of life. The words and promises found within the pages of Scripture provide the blueprint for character building. Character grows as a person learns to view life in the context of God’s grace.

Identity and performance

When stepping into a roomful of strangers, one’s first instinct is to look for a friendly face and strike up a conversation: “So tell me something about yourself; what do you do?” The stranger’s response is likely to reveal two things: who he is (I am an American; I am a man of God) and what he does (I am a welder; I am an engineer).

When it comes to character formation, knowing the distinction between identity and performance and placing the emphasis in the right place makes all the difference in the world.

Who I am (identity) and what I do (performance) are both important. But in terms of character, performance must always give way to identity. In other words, to be a man or woman of good Christian character, who I am must be dominant over what I do.

In training children, most parents tend to overlook identity and skip right to performance. We assume that our kids already know who they are. So we reward the things they do with ribbons and marks on a report card, with approving smiles and hugs, with trophies and trips to the ice-cream parlor. We do this because we live in
 a world that is driven by performance. But we also do it at the risk of undermining our child’s identity.

Children who grow up believing that what they do is their identity are missing the most important component of good character: their understanding of self.

Before a child can do, he or she must be.

Dear parent, celebrate your child’s being. Help your children understand: “I am a forgiven child of God” trumps “I do well in math or science” or “I sing better than others.” Teach your child: “I am a godly boy (girl)” is more important than getting recognition for my ability as an artist or an athlete. Explain to your child: “I am a member of God’s family” rises above “I try to be a good person.” The things our children do in life will reflect good character only if they first know who they are.

  • “Character and the Christian Life: A Study in Theological Ethics,” Stanley Hauerwas, 1975.


By Kenneth Kremer, from Parents Crosslink © 2012 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Kenneth Kremer is a former elementary school principal, counselor, and family ministry editor. In that capacity he was instrumental in the development of Parents Crosslink. Kenn and his wife, Marlis, continue to serve the Lord in retirement in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Image by Raúl Hernández González is licensed under CC BY 2.0.