Character Identity – Are You Telling Or Teaching?

Character Identity - Are You Telling Or Teaching?

Character Identity

Are You Telling or Teaching?

In early June, it was my privilege and joy to teach hundreds of 7th graders about their identity. Because, I wanted them to understand how multi-faceted they are. I wanted them to choose to invest in all of themselves. It matters partly because identity controls behavior.

Consequently, if children only know a part of themselves, they’ll struggle greatly if that part fails them. For instance, last Monday, I wrote about children’s social identity.  If that’s all they have to depend on, what will they do when they feel only negative about it? Isolate. Separate. Treat peers and others badly. And more.

What Your Teens Are Saying:

When I asked these young teens to tell me a high compliment they could receive if someone described their character identity, groups listed these qualities:

  • Kind, encouraging
  • Trustworthy, kind
  • Charismatic
  • Good, kind-hearted
  • Honest, truthful
  • Sweet, loyal, integrity
  • Humble
  • Perky, always happy, encouraging, bubbly, friendly, peppy, humble, helpful, careful, kind, loving, compassionate heart
  • Loyal, respectful
  • Easygoing, positive, problem solver
  • Open-minded
  • Hardworking
  • Diligent, respectful, responsible
  • Courageous
  • Good role model

What do you think?

I think these are great kids! Can you imagine if all of us consistently exhibited these qualities? Seriously!

So be grateful with me that these teens want to be known as having these qualities. Perhaps ask your children the same question. What character qualities do they highly value? Then, let’s ask ourselves how we can help them. Picture yourself talking with them about these. Which ones will we be better at modeling? Will accountability help us model those that aren’t natural strengths of ours? How can we teach these character qualities?

Teaching is a key. It’s absolutely essential that we talk about the character qualities we want our kids to choose. While modeling them prevents the hypocrisy that angers children. But, teaching matters because these qualities aren’t easy to embrace 24/7.

4 Ways You Can Help Your Children:

  • Starting with the old-fashioned dictionary might be wise. Definitions often reveal fine differences between qualities.
  • Since contrasting the qualities with their opposites is effective teaching. Share an example of someone being courageous and an example of someone not being brave. Teach about loyalty vs. someone giving up quickly on a friend. Also, contrast kindness with rude behavior. What does encouragement sound like and look like? What about discouragement? You get the idea.
  • Would role playing or making up dramas with your kids help them understand why and how to live out these qualities? Especially if they’re body smart and people smart, this could be great fun and very effective. What about watching favorite movies or shows and looking for examples of positive and negative character qualities? We could do the same thing with stories they’re reading.
  • Since there are numerous examples of many of the qualities these teens mentioned in the heroes we know from the Bible. I imagine the same thing will be true regarding qualities your children identify as important. Look for examples together. Did Jesus use that quality? When was he courageous? Encouraging? Respectful? Responsible? Was Paul hard working? Who can you think of who demonstrated loyalty? How does a study of significant men and women from Scripture inform our ideas about humility?

So What Can You Do As Parents?

If you engage your children in discussions like these, I’d love to know how they go.

Most of all, let’s not just expect our kids to wake up another day with better character. Children tell me they don’t want us to “tell and yell.” They want to be taught. They need to be taught. It honors them. I pray God blesses you as you persevere.


You can read the earlier blogs in this series here:

Introduction to blog series about a complete identity:

Do You Know What You’re Aiming For?

Intellectual identity

Emotional identity

Social identity

In last week’s video, Dr. Kathy shared a parenting philosophy she is in favor of. This week, she talks about the type of parent who greatly concerns her. She admits it’s a serious topic. You won’t be laughing if you watch. We predict you will be thinking. Curious? Good!

What’s Your Child’s Social Identity?

“How are you?”

If you read my last three blogs, you’re beginning to understand that this question that we are often asked, and that we ask our children, isn’t simple.

If your son answers while thinking of his intellectual identity, he might answer great! But, if answering with his emotional self in mind, he might have said lonely or frustrated.

If your daughter thinks of her emotional identity, she might answer terrible! But, if answering while reflecting on her intellectual self, she might have proclaimed, super!

Maybe the internal contradictions are why children often just grunt, shrug their shoulders, or respond OK. And, this is only while considering two of six identities!

Today, let’s consider the social identity. No matter the age of your children, this matters. It’s about friendship, being friendly, community, establishing belonging, and being connected in meaningful ways.

What goals do you have for this identity for your children? What do you hope they’ll strive for? Talk with them about your hopes and goals as another school year begins. But, do more than talk. Help them. model for them what’s healthy. Be available for their questions. Share wisdom. Dry their tears. Be vulnerable about your past struggles. Identify missing skills and teach them. Think strategically and plan intentionally. Progress is very possible!

As in my past blogs, I’ll share here what groups of 7th graders listed as a high compliment when I taught this concept to hundreds of them back in June. Perhaps this will help you think about how to present this issue to your children and how to choose important goals.

  • Teamwork
  • Friendly
  • Friendly
  • Outspoken, friendly
  • Nice, helpful
  • People like being around me
  • Outgoing
  • A lot of friends, interactive, open, trustworthy, compassionate, fun to be around, respectful, perky, responsible
  • Outgoing, funny, friendly
  • Nice, kind, optimistic, caring
  • Optimistically outgoing
  • Friendly
  • Good at talking to people
  • Self-control
  • Funny, easy to get along with

I wish I could follow up with the five groups who listed “friendly.” If your children answer with this goal, I hope you’ll follow up. What do they mean by the word? What’s the evidence that someone is friendly? What does it look like? Sound like?

I’ve been observing people from afar. It’s been interesting. I’ve assumed someone is friendly based on body language, facial expressions, and how closely they sit next to someone. Am I right? Could I be wrong?

If you ask your children what “friendly” is like with peers they don’t know yet and what it’s like when they know peers well, I’d love to know what they say. Be prepared for an interesting discussion. I’ve been observing my own behavior at church, for instance. I’d like to be known as being friendly. How do I present myself to guests? How do I present myself to those I’m already friends with?

There’s much to think about! Again, the question, “How are you?” isn’t as simple as we used to think it is.


You can read the earlier blogs in this series here:

Introduction to blog series about a complete identity

Intellectual identity

Emotional identity

What’s Your Child’s Emotional Identity?

If someone asked your children to describe themselves, what might they say? If you were asked that question, what would you say?

Chances are good that we and our children might not mention our emotions. Yet, they’re a very important part of our identity.

Knowing our emotions matters because feelings influence behaviors. Would you agree that if you’re angry, you may not behave in the ways you prefer? When you’re anxious, do you recognize you don’t behave the same as when you’re at peace? Feelings influence much. How about being ignored? Offended? Scared? Uncertain? Enthusiastic? Puzzled? Annoyed?

Helping children identify their emotions and name them accurately can help them process their feelings well. They can learn if they need help to do so, perhaps by talking with you. They can learn how some emotions cause others. This is essential so they deal with what’s really going on. For example, they may truly be angry, but it was triggered by jealousy. Or, fear. Or, hate, confusion, perfectionism, or disappointment.

Are you raising boys? They have as many feelings as girls, but often don’t have the vocabulary to name them. Girls and women seem to have a natural thesaurus for emotions. We can be frustrated, angry, upset, disappointed, concerned, and irritated. Guys are angry. That’s their word. (Certainly there are factors that won’t make this always true, but when I teach on this, the majority of men in the audience nod to indicate they agree.)

As I wrote in the first blog in this series, it’s wise for parents to think strategically and plan intentionally about who they want their children to be. You may do nothing more important than raise children well so spending time thinking about who you want them to be is time well spent. That’s an understatement!

What are the emotions you’d love your children to have consistently? Or, how would you like them to describe themselves? As I explained last Monday in a blog about having a healthy intellectual identity, I recently taught these concepts to a large group of 7th graders. I asked them to tell me what would be a high compliment in the emotional identity category. Before you look at their answers, how would you like your children to answer this question?

  • Loving
  • Caring
  • Stable
  • Kind and loving
  • Friendly, joyful, happy, compassionate
  • Happy, joyful, resilient
  • Loving
  • Joyful, grateful, kind-hearted
  • Humble, mature, stable
  • Joyful, happy, stable
  • Trustworthy
  • Joyous
  • Optimistic
  • In control of emotions

As I ended last week’s blog:

What do you want to be true about your children emotionally? What’s your bull’s-eye? Do they know that? Would they agree with you? How must you parent for this to be their reality?

As we say at Celebrate Kids, wishing it so won’t make it so. We can’t just wish this identity for our children. Talking about it isn’t enough. That is, of course, helpful and wise. But, to assure they define themselves in the ways we value, you’ll have to guide them, walk with them, affirm them, correct them, and maybe more. Are you up to the task? If not, adjust your expectations and change your bull’s-eye or you and your children will be disappointed. Discouragement can set in.

Having a goal matters. Working to make it a reality is loving. Make a plan now. Your children will benefit.

Does Being “Smart” Matter To Your Children? Why?

If you read Monday’s blog about helping children develop a healthy intellectual identity, I predict you weren’t surprised by the number of groups of teens who admitted they wanted to be smart. You might think they were influenced by the fact that I’m the “8 great smarts” lady, but I don’t think so. If you had asked, I believe they would have prioritized “smart,” too.

Why is “smart” something they want to be? For many years, I’ve referred to the word as a “power word.” Everyone wants to be smart.

Certainly, the present is a factor. Being smart just makes school easier and more pleasant. Some of these teens have parents they want to please who have probably told them being smart matters.

The future is a factor. Children inherently know that being smart increases education and career options.

I think the past has influenced them, too. When they were little, relatives and friends told them they were smart and had done a “good job” on any number of tasks. Parents clapped when they successfully repeated important behaviors and skills. These children, now teens, figured out that it mattered to figure things out.

Doing things well also made them feel good inside. Teens want to keep experiencing that feeling.

Ask your kids about being smart. Does it matter to them? Why?

A caution about screens: When I was a child, my parents interacted with me as I was learning. When my nieces and nephew were young, I interacted with them. Smiles on our faces, joy in our voices, and the applause of our hands communicated “well done” and “you are smart.”

When they were playing, learning to read, coloring, and the like, we probably said things like,

Way to go. That was easy for you!

I knew you could do it. You’re smart!

I love your creativity! That’s a beautiful drawing.

You built a lot of cool things with your blocks. You’re very good at that!

Because we were there, they learned what we valued.

If children are allowed to isolate with an app on a device in order to experience and learn things that we used to do with others, they may not receive any supportive messages at all. Research suggests they won’t retain the learning because they’re not interacting with people. Let’s be concerned. Let’s put screens down and interact. It will help them be smart and help them set goals like, “I want to be smart!”

Identity: A Child Needs To Know Who They Are…

Last week I wrote the first blog in a series related to intentional parenting. Having a focus, something to aim for will help us be intentional and more successful. Because it’s been a theme of our work at Celebrate Kids forever, let’s focus on children’s identity. They need to know who they are.

Breaking the broad concept of identity into categories makes it more manageable. And, it will help us make sure to raise children with a complete identity. They need to know themselves broad and deep. They have an intellectual identity, emotional identity, social identity, physical identity, spiritual identity, and an identity based on their character qualities. (Of course, so do we.)

Today I want you to think about the goals you have for your children’s intellectual identity. How would you like to describe them intellectually? How would you like them to describe themselves?

Depending on where you live, the new academic year may start in just a few weeks. Or perhaps you homeschool year round. In every case, it’s important to be thinking about the intellectual identity now so you can help them start the new year well.

In June it was my privilege to teach about a complete identity to a large number of 7th graders. In their small groups, I asked them to think of one high compliment they could receive related to their intellectual selves. (As you’ll see, some groups couldn’t limit themselves to just one idea.) Think about what you’d love your children to say and then read what these 13-year-olds listed:

  • Smart
  • Doing well in school
  • Musically gifted
  • Creative
  • Smart and creative
  • Smart
  • Learns quickly
  • Smart, talented, intelligent, artistic, unique, processing
  • History, bugs, science, robotics, music
  • Smart
  • Original thinker
  • Wise beyond their years
  • Smart
  • Focused
  • Motivated

What do you want to be true about your children intellectually? What’s your bull’s-eye? Do they know that? Would they agree with you? How must you parent for this to be their reality?

As we say at Celebrate Kids, wishing it so won’t make it so. We can’t just wish this identity for our children. Talking about it isn’t enough. That is, of course, helpful and wise. But, to assure they define themselves in the ways we value, you’ll have to guide them, walk with them, affirm them, correct them, help them with homework, study with them for their tests, and maybe more. Are you up to the task? If not, adjust your expectations and change your bull’s-eye or you and your children will be disappointed. Discouragement can set in.

Having a goal matters. Working to make it a reality is loving. Make a plan now. Your children will benefit.

Do You Know What You’re Aiming For?

Archery may be easy if you’re trained. Just having a bull’s-eye in front of you doesn’t guarantee you’ll hit it. When I was a college student, I “learned” archery as one of the units in a PE class I was required to take as an elementary education major. Learned is in quotes because it would be more accurate to say I tried archery.

Just because the bull’s-eye was in front of me didn’t guarantee my arrow would come anywhere close. It wasn’t easy! People often recommend you have a goal to aim for. That certainly is true. But it doesn’t guarantee you’ll reach it or hit it.

What about bowling? I enjoy bowling with my family and with friends on occasion. One of my favorite bowling memories is bowling after a wedding reception with the bride, groom, and wedding party. To the others there, we must have looked ridiculous in our fancy dresses and tuxes. Continuing the celebration of my friends’ love and marriage in this way was very special.

There we were. We each chose a ball. The pins were right in front of us. There were even gutter boundaries to help us. Yet, there was no guarantee that when we released the ball it would knock down any of the pins much less score a strike. We needed to concentrate and think about everything – pulling the ball back, the release, the aim, the follow-through, where our feet were, and more.

Like with archery, knowing the direction and your goal is certainly valuable, but intentionality, strategy, and training are necessary to knock down the pins.

It’s the same for parenting. You have to know what you’re aiming for when you think about raising your children. What does your bull’s-eye look like? What would you consider a strike? Being intentional is wise. Having strategies to help you accomplish your goals makes it more likely that you will be successful.

I hope you will be blessed by a series of blog posts about how to intentionally raise children. I want to help you think about what your bull’s-eye is and what your strike is. Then I want to help you discover some ways to be successful.

It’s easy today to be distracted. It’s easy to think everything should be easy. But it never has been and it never will be easy to raise healthy children. This week, think about your goals and why you have them. I’d love you to let me know what they are. Come back for the next few weeks as I continue the series and give you some thoughts about hitting the bull’s-eye or making a strike as you develop children’s intellectual, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual sides and their character qualities, too.

Be blessed!

** Make sure to come back on Thursday to watch this week’s video where I address similar issues.

Create Opportunities For Children To Deepen Connections And Belonging

Do you collect things that are meaningful to you? I do, including pine cones that I suppose others might think are a rather strange thing to collect. But, each one on my living room shelf is important to me. I wrote about them here.

When teaching at a youth camp in early June, I was surrounded by pine trees and lots of beauty in New Mexico. I thought about going exploring to find a pine cone to take home as a memory. Because my back was acting up and I was using a cane, I knew walking on uneven ground would not be wise.

One day with the almost 400 7th graders I taught every morning, I mentioned my collection when explaining that nature-smart people often collect and categorize by patterns. I explained that I was sorry I couldn’t go find a new pine cone to add to those I already owned to represent our fabulous times together.

Before I knew it, I heard myself encouraging any child who wanted to find and give me one to do so. I was stunned by how many did this, eagerly looking for me later that day to hand theirs to me. Some shared their stories of where they found it and why they chose the one they did.

Some found a pine cone for me because they’re nature smart and it was easy and natural for them to do so. What I found more interesting was how many did it to further establish their relationship with me. It was a belonging issue. It was clear to me in the way they approached and interacted with me. They wanted to participate. They wanted to be known.

It’s not hard to create opportunities to help children and teens establish themselves in a group. It’s not hard to deepen connections and belonging. It’s not hard to help them feel important, recognized, and known. We just need to do it.

Let’s think of some ways to do that today. Then let’s follow through and do it. Watch for smiles. Confidence. Conversations. Connections.

Don’t just do it once. Keep it up. Thanks.

Baking Self-Respect by Tina Hollenbeck

At Celebrate Kids, we believe self-respect is a very important character quality to develop in ourselves and our children. It can be the one that motivates us to engage all the others.

Tina Hollenbeck, a staff writer who consistently contributes excellent work to our email newsletter, has allowed me to post her most recent newsletter column here at my blog.  It will be a part of tomorrow’s issue. If you want to read more of her excellence, subscribe to our newsletter here. I think you’ll find her analogy about raising children who have self-respect thought provoking and beneficial.

Why does self-respect matter? Among other things, as Tina includes below, it’s what can cause children to care about the long-term ramifications of their actions. Does that appeal to you?

Baking Self-Respect by Tina Hollenbeck

When my daughters were little, one of them regularly expressed her frustration over disagreements with her sister by biting. She’s since explained that after a certain age she unequivocally realized that verbally working out conflicts was right and more productive in the end – she was, after all, disciplined any time she bit her sister and usually had the very thing she’d wanted taken away for good. But she still bit because doing so was simpler and more satisfying in her young, immature way of thinking.

Of course, she doesn’t bite anymore and hasn’t for several years. But what ultimately influenced her to stop despite how “good” it felt to chomp at her sister’s arm?

Consistent discipline was critical. Brainstorming and role-playing alternative reactions had value. Fostering a spirit of cooperation between my daughters mattered. Modeling proper ways of responding to conflict helped. And praising her when she chose well was great reinforcement.

But all of those things were merely ingredients, the way eggs, milk, flour, and sugar serve as ingredients for cake. A bunch of eggs – even when cracked open and whisked – doesn’t transform into cake. A cupful of sugar cannot morph into a cake while it sits on the counter. In fact, we can have a ready supply of all those ingredients and use them liberally for various purposes. But unless we mix them together in the right proportions and then bake them – applying heat over time – we’ll never get the cake.

The same is true in regards to fixing childish behavior and poor choices our kids make. We do need good ingredients like consistent discipline and positive reinforcement. And we can’t skimp just because we’re tired; I had to keep at it with my daughter regardless of how her behavior exhausted me. But, honestly, just as a cake removed from the oven too soon will either ooze out of the pan or deflate before our eyes, we cannot rush the development of what it takes for kids to have a willing-good character.

My daughter is now an adolescent – a true young lady, not the stereotype of a “teen.” She would never dream of expressing frustration physically now. And, in fact, remembering her biting habit mortifies her. Why? Somehow – just like the mystery behind the chemical reactions inherent in cake baking – the combination of ingredients my husband and I chose “baked” in God’s “oven” of child development over time produced a beautiful “self-respect cake” in her.

My daughter knows right from wrong, but she knew it when she was still biting. The difference between then and now is that maturity has brought with it self-respect such that she now cares about the long-term ramifications of her actions within her own spirit. Being able to smile at herself in the mirror a month from now matters much more than instant gratification.

Again, working with good ingredients along the way is imperative; cake doesn’t get baked in an empty oven either! But the self-respect that has transformed our daughter into a young lady who is willing to make the right choices even when she doesn’t want to could only come over time.

As you’re “mixing up and baking” your child’s self-respect cake, anxious to taste it in all its glory, remember patience. Your child’s “cake” will be an amazing confectionary delight…in due time.

In addition to homeschooling her own children, Tina Hollenbeck directs The Homeschool Resource Roadmap and a Facebook group for homeschoolers.

She enjoys providing useful information and encouragement to those called to educate their own children. In addition to writing for our newsletter, she also co-authored Celebrating Children’s 12 Genius Qualities with me and Brad Sargent.

Taking A Spiritual Inventory

Because of some recent bumps and bruises as I do this thing called living, I was prompted to complete a spiritual inventory I always do at the end of the year. I think about these things regularly, but it’s rare that I sit down and deeply ponder each question, even writing out my responses, except at the end of the year.

I’m glad I took this seriously last week. My answers encouraged me and I was appropriately challenged, as well. I’m sharing the questions here because maybe you’ll benefit, too.

I really want my life’s focus to be Jesus, but it’s easy to get sidetracked by life’s busyness. For integrity, I want my life to line up with what I say is important. What about you? Asking and answering these questions helps me get back on track.

These questions come from various inventories and from my awareness of my own tendencies and what to be alert to. Use them if they appear complete for you and your situation. If not, adjust the list so you’re appropriately challenged to grow. And, how about helping children and teens use these, too? Imagine! To God be the glory!

  1. Do I know God better? Do I love Him more? Do I trust Him more?
  2. Is the Word of God refreshing to my soul? Do I know more of it? Do I willingly prioritize reading it, studying it, and meditating on it?
  3. Am I less attracted to the world now than I was before?
  4. Do I have a greater desire to do the will of God? Do I earnestly desire what God wants for me or do I want my own way?
  5. Do I present the Gospel when the Spirit prompts me to?
  6. Am I more disciplined? Do I more quickly recognize sin as sin and turn from it?
  7. When God chastens me, what’s my attitude? Do I choose to see God’s loving care for me?
  8. Am I more focused on pleasing God than people? Do I regularly respond to people as Christ would?
  9. Do I appropriately prioritize fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ?
  10. Are my times of worship rich, regular, personal, and meaningful? Do I generously and sacrificially give back to God?
  11. Do I pray confidently and expectantly? Do I wait for and recognize God’s answers? Am I appropriately grateful for all God is and does?
  12. Do I honor the Sabbath?

These questions were included in an earlier blog.