Teach Your Children Virtues, Not Just Rules
The internet is full of advice for mothers. Full.
Yes, motherhood is hard. It is. No denying it. Tough days, frustrations, exhausted nerves pushed to the limit of almost crazy. We all know this.
Yet, in all of these discussions, one topic is lacking: teaching virtue.
We focus on rules because we believe that rules get results.
Yes, rules are important, for sure. Boundaries should be clear, consistent, and enforced. But rule keeping is only one side of the coin.
The other side–the reason for law and order–the reason for the commandments is virtue that allows us to love God and others well.
Do most people know what virtue is? In a world that’s false and Photo-shopped and me-centered, where does virtue fit in?
What does the Bible mean when it says, “If there be any virtue…think on these things?”
Virtue and Integrity go hand in hand. Virtue is the sense of what is noble, fair, right, just. It’s all that’s good. Integrity is the character that allows you to pursue virtue. It is the same in the light as in the dark. Integrity does the same in private as it does in public. When nobody else sees, a woman of integrity does what’s right.
A mom lamented that her child was sneaking food. The food is an issue. Chocolate before supper is naughty. But the real issue is a heart that was willing to deceive—to do something that they wouldn’t have done if mom was there.
Look for ways to teach virtue. More importantly, live virtuously.
So, for instance, a mom who yells at her kids but then answers her phone sweetly is not living a life of integrity.
The mom who screams at her child and then expects the child to respect her might as well forget it.
The mom who lies to her kids or exaggerates to others can’t expect her kids to trust her when they are older.
Bottom line: What will stop a child from lying? Is it your threatening? No. Only an elevation of the truth and the love of it.
What will stop selfishness and self-focus? Seeing the beauty of generosity and kindness against the backdrop of our own dark hearts.
What will stop a teen from gossiping or laughing behind someone else’s back? A love for justice and for protecting people.
What will stop any sinful behavior? Nothing–absolutely nothing, until you behold the humility and perfection of the Savior and want it for yourself. Seeing the virtue in our Savior shows us our lack and inspires us towards goodness and godliness.
Behold the Lovely
Virtue is a forgotten tool in the mothering toolbox.
Highlighting virtue in our daily lives inspires our kids to be noble. When we see goodness, we want to be good.
When we experience grace, we want to be grace-givers.
And then when we see injustice or are the recipient of hurtful behavior like prejudice or gossip, we should abhor the behavior, and it should propel us to love virtue even more.
2 Peter 1–
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
…For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You might be caught in the “no” cycle–saying no for wrong behavior more than you highlight noble behavior.
Have you praised the generous child who shared a cookie, or the unselfish one who offered a better spot on the couch during movie time, or the compassionate one who offered a hug when someone was sad?
I remember the hard days of parenting, but the good news is that children can grow into lovely, compassionate, virtue-loving adults. (Why don’t more people write blog posts about that!)
I have three adult child and three younger ones in the home, and I have been on both sides of the “hard parenting” stage. Can I just tell you how much of a blessing older children are when they exhibit the virtue of scripture?
My daughter Emily is sitting out for a semester. While she’s home she’s been clipping coupons for me and writing out the local deals. She takes initiative to straighten out the house. She’s generous with her money and loves buying gifts for people. She plays with our foster child. She offers her clothes to her younger sisters. All these things are not part of the rule following, but are part of the virtues growing in her.
Rebekah is a dorm counselor at Bob Jones University and she has a coffee ministry in her room. She offers French pressed Starbucks and treats to anyone who needs to talk. Last week I sent her fall napkins in a care package and she was so excited to be able to give her girls a cookie on a “pretty napkin.” She’s concerned with the needs around her and when she comes home, she jumps in with the needs here.
Matthew is generous almost to a fault. He texts to ask how our foster boy is doing because he misses him. He’s always on the look out for his sisters safety and even, occasionally, for mine. There’s nothing more attractive than kindness and gentleness in a man.
Although I love to brag on them, (ahem) I’m not using them as an example to say what a great parent I have been. On the contrary. I’ve stumbled along the way and had to learn on the fly.
I’m saying that the tough days do pay off. You’ll wake up one day to these wonderful adults and, like the pain of childbirth, you forget the trauma. 😉 Well, almost forget.
If you are in the trenches of the early years, make your child obey the rules, yes. Be consistent, certainly. But train them to love virtue and give them plenty of good examples to follow.
Praise them when they are good, and make virtue something to be pursued and emulated.
Don’t let “first time obedience” be your end all. Who wants to raise a rule keeper who is heartless?
After your child’s faith in Jesus Christ, mind 2 Peter 1 and “add virtue.” Don’t skip this.
Need parenting inspiration? Get into God’s word and look at the life of Jesus and talk about it. When you read with a heart to imitate the goodness, it highlights the virtue instead of always focusing on the forbidden.
Does that make sense? Let me know if I’m not clear in the comments or tell me what you’ve done to instill virtue in your kids.
Have a great day!
RESOURCES FOR TEACHING VIRTUE:
God’s Wisdom for Little Girls: Virtues and Fun from Proverbs 31
The Book of Virtues
Loving God with All Your Mind
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2 thoughts on “Teach Your Children Virtues, Not Just Rules”
Thank you Sarah, I needed this encouragement as we are in the middle of a challenging season with our 5 year old. While we are reaping some rewards of our routines in his infancy, we are dealing with attitudes and respectfulness and it can make one weary. We appreciate families like yours that we can look at and see how your parenting with intention and your love for the Lord has brought about children that love the Lord too. Your ministry here in the world wide web is greatly appreciated!
I’ll pray for you, Andee! I do think the Lord blesses our meager attempts to parent for His glory, however flawed. So nice seeing you a few weeks ago…even under sad circumstances. God bless you.