Five Ways to Build Character in Your Kids Without Resorting to Behavior Charts and Bribes

How can we teach our kids character without using behavior charts and bribes? Here’s how we can encourage a real heart change!
By contributing writer Liz

Charlotte Mason wrote, “The habits of the child become the character of the man.”

As parents it is our job to guide our children towards becoming the person they will be when they are grown. With this in mind, I knew that I wanted a big part of our homeschool preschool this year to focus on good habits and character building.

I knew I didn’t just want a chart that focused on behavior modification – I wanted to encourage a real heart change! Over the last few months I have paid close attention to the ways in which I can help my son build good character. Today, I want to share some of what I’ve found!

How can we teach our kids character without using behavior charts and bribes? Here are 5 ways we can encourage a real heart change!  | IntentionalByGrace.com

Talk, Talk, Talk

It seems so simple, but sometimes I wonder how much we actually talk to our kids. Sure, we tell them to wash their hands and eat their supper. We help with their school work and ask them to stop running in the house. But how many conversations are we actually having?

We need to talk with- not just at– our kids.

Having little conversations with my son throughout the day not only helps with his social skills and builds our relationship, but allows me to help him make connections that build his character.

For example, recently we have been learning about self control. Whenever the opportunity arises, we will talk about the topic.

Now, by this I don’t mean launching into a lengthy diatribe. I don’t want to exasperate him or lose his interest. Especially with little ones, short and simple is key.

Usually the conversations go something like this:

Me: “Hey look, here’s your hulk toy. Do you remember when we were talking about how the hulk has to use self control so he doesn’t smash his friends?”

K: “Yeah!”

Me: “Let’s pretend to use self-control and smash like the Hulk!”

Me: “Hey buddy you need to calm down. Remember how we talked about self-control, let’s take a deep breath.”

Me: “Please put your plate in the sink.”

K: “I don’t want to!”

Me: “Do you remember what self control means?”

K: “Yeah. Doing the right thing.”

Me: Yep, even when you don’t want to. Momma has to do things she doesn’t want to sometimes. Do you think you can have self control and put your plate in the sink?”

Now, granted, our conversations aren’t always this smooth. And if he’s not interested in a drawn out conversation, I’ve learned to put it on the shelf. There will always be another opportunity!


Point Conversations Back to the Gospel

Speaking of having conversations, one thing I try to do as often as possible is point our character building conversations back to the cross.

I never want my children to feel like they need to earn their way into God’s good graces. I want their character and obedience to come from a place of love and gratitude to God.

So, we talk a lot about how Jesus is the only one who does everything perfect and how all of us (even Mommy and Daddy!) mess up a lot. That is why Jesus had to come and save us! I want God’s grace to be as foundational to them as breathing.

You can read more about one of our conversations here.

Model What You Want to See

The other day I heard my three year old’s voice coming through his little brother’s baby monitor. Raising his pitch just a little he said “Hi baby! Did you have a good sleep? It’s okay, I’m gonna go get momma. Just wait right here!”

He sounded exactly like me. Why? I had never sat him down and instructed him on how to talk to a baby. However, he had heard me and his dad talk to the baby every day for the past five months. It didn’t take him long to mimic what we were doing.

If you have a character trait that you are trying to develop in your child, don’t forget to be modeling it for them. The words you speak to your child on needing to be patient are not going to go very far when they see you frustrated at slow drivers (my weakness!), or complaining about the long wait at the doctor’s office.

Sometimes I’ll even point out the character trait I am (trying to!) display. For example, we might be packing daddy’s lunch together and I’d say “It is very nice of us to pack daddy’s lunch. We are doing a good job being helpful!”

Be Proactive – Practice!

We don’t have to wait for a moment of discipline to bring up having good character. We can take it one step further by being proactive and practicing the character trait we are working toward! There are lots of ways to do this, but some we have used are: memorizing specific scriptures, role play, crafts on the topic, and activities.

Are you looking for a way to be proactive in your child’s character training but you’re not quite sure where to start? I would love to have you join us for our current series!

Hero Training: Kid's Character Challenge

Hero Training! Kid’s Character Challenge is all about building kid’s character in a fun way. Each week has a super hero theme, lesson plan, and five kid friendly character challenges. You can read more about it here.

Pray for Your Child

Finally, let us never forget to be in constant prayer for our children. In the end, it is God who brings the real change in our children’s lives. Although outside influences definitely play a big part in developing someone’s character, it is God who softens the heart and enables someone’s will to be in line with His.

Not only do I try to pray for my children, I also pray for them in front of them. Especially at bedtime, although we will do it after discipline too, I will pray out loud for them. I pray for my son to grow to love Jesus and follow Him. I ask for forgiveness for sins both he and I have committed. I pray for the character quality we are especially working on that day.

This not only teaches my child how to pray and ask for God’s forgiveness and help, but it also lets them know that their momma is praying for them!

In closing, let us never forget that character training won’t be an overnight success. It is a continual process filled with both bad moments and happy days. Remember the words Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6:

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you (and your children!), will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Habit and character training in kids without resorting to behavior charts and bribes. | IntentionalByGrace.com

What do you do to encourage character growth in your child?

Other Posts You Might Like to Read about Training Your Children:

Fruit of the Spirit Curriculum for Toddlers!

Want to share the Gospel with your toddler on a more regular basis? Want to start teaching biblical truths to your child but not sure where to start?

I’ve created the Fruit of the Spirit Curriculum for Toddlers (and Preschoolers) for this very reason! I have used it with all three of my kids.

Go HERE to learn WHY I wrote the Fruit of the Spirit Curriculum for Toddlers, or go HERE to see it in our store.

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One Comment

  1. These are great tips! We talk about self-control A LOT with my little boys (really, it never gets old). Drawing discipline back to scripture and PRAYING PRAYING PRAYING are things I’m constantly working on. Thanks for this post!