Who are you when no one is looking? Habit 3 of a family that wins was taught to me by my grandparents and parents who believed it to be the foundation of everything. What is it? Character.
I grew up believing character to be who you are when no one is looking. I’ve shared that definition with my children as we’ve worked to make it the bedrock of our family culture.
It is also the real foundation of all worthwhile success and the sum total of all the choices we make in life.
As I’ve grown older, and hopefully wiser, I’ve realized that if I plan to leave a legacy and ensure my children are positioned to succeed in life, I’ve got to do all that I can to prepare, teach, and instill in them the habit of character.
Consequently, character dominates the conversations in our house.
But how can parents and families teach it?
Character is something that’s caught more than taught. It’s not as easy to teach character, as it is to demonstrate character.
Whether you like it or not, you are the most influential book your children will ever read on the subject of character.
How do they see you treat a waiter or waitress at a restaurant? If you’re given too much change at the store, do you give it back? If a neighbor needs help when you are busy, do you help them anyway?
Likewise the language you use when communicating with others demonstrates character. Do you have the courage to apologize, especially to your own children?
In short, we are always demonstrating character to our kids.
But can we teach it? I believe the answer is yes.
We’ve invested a significant amount of resources and time into doing just that in our family.
We focused on 21 different character traits over six months of family meetings. Each week, one of our kids would present a different character trait. Each child gave presentations on character traits such as honesty, generosity, and grace.
We thought if they presented it, it would be more understandable to them. And it worked—to an extent.
They learned a lot about character traits, but 21 is a lot for kids to learn!
So even though it was a valuable exercise, it really didn’t stick in the way we had hoped. We started looking for other ways to reinforce character.
I was given an acrostic by a dear friend of mine, Don Seltzer, who used this simple tool for decades to teach his children: T R U S T
A Simple Acrostic to Teach Character
T — Transparency. Transparency is truth and it means you have nothing to hide. It means that your word is your oath, that your yes is your yes. But Don attaches another T to transparency, because he says without Teachability, Transparency really doesn’t mean anything.
Teachability means that you’re not argumentative. You listen and are attentive to what others have to contribute. You think carefully before taking action.
R —Reliability. Reliability means that you’re consistent, that you do what you say you’re going to do. It’s as simple as that. If you see reliability in your child, you know that they are headed down the path of character.
U — Understanding. As Stephen Covey put it, “Seek first to understand then to be understood.”
Understanding others first really boils down to empathy, compassion, and kindness. It means your children see you treating others as having worth and value, not because you get something from them, but because you value them as people.
S — Security. Being secure in the core of who you are is critical to anyone having an internal sense of being loved and cherished. One of the most significant things for any child to know is that they’re loved and that they belong. When they have that sense of security in their core, then they’re comfortable being who they are and making decisions based on sound character.
T — Thankfulness. The spirit of gratitude goes a long way. Our brains are naturally wired to be negative and fearful. Consequently, we have to train our brain to be positive. It doesn’t just happen by itself. Gratitude must be intentional.
We’ve used this acrostic to talk about character with our kids as we go about life.
When they make wrong decisions or resist our instruction, we refer to the TRUST acrostic and say, “Hey, you’re not very teachable today. It’s hard for me to coach you to be your best when you’re not teachable.” Or “You’re really lacking in understanding others today. Maybe we need to talk about empathy or connecting with other people.”
When Character Becomes Part of the Culture
You see, the habit of character has to become part of the atmosphere of the home in order for the habit of character to really take hold—like the Chinese bamboo tree.
The Chinese bamboo tree requires water, fertilizer, soil, sunshine. But in the first year of its growth, you see no visible signs of activity. In the second year, still no growth above the soil. Same thing in the third year and fourth year as it tests the grower’s patience.
Finally, in the 5th year, a miracle seems to take place. Incredible growth happens—up to 80 feet in 6 weeks!
But the Chinese bamboo tree doesn’t really grow 80 feet in 6 weeks.
It grows underground for years before you see the evidence of years of work.
Had the tree not developed a strong foundation that no one could see, it could not have sustained itself or experienced the phenomenal growth.
The same principle is true for families and for children—our ability as parents to stay the course even when we’re unable to see any growth on the surface at all.
We must patiently work towards worthwhile habits and strong character in our kids while helping them overcome adversity and challenges so they can grow the internal foundation they need to handle whatever life throws their way.
The question for us as parents is can we stay focused and continue to believe in what we’re doing even when we don’t see the immediate results?
We live in a culture that’s really all about instant gratification. And that is why developing the habit of character in our families requires one critical thing—faith.
We have to have faith to keep watering and fertilizing the ground of our children and our families if we are going to see incredible growth in the future.
Inside each one of our kids or grandkids is a Chinese bamboo tree called character, just waiting to break through.
Keep watering. Keep teaching. Keep believing.
And your family will soon experience incredible growth.
Question: What ways have you found in your own family to reinforce the importance of character in your kids? Which point in the acrostic do you like the most? You can share your thoughts by clicking here.