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These 20 ‘gifts’ will build character in kids and will last longer than a week or a year. They will last a lifetime.
As I wrapped my young daughter’s Christmas presents this year I smiled, thinking of her reaction to Christmas morning. I have played my part and conditioned her to recognize Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, the Christmas tree, etc… However, no activity we have done together could possibly prepare her for the sweet surprise of her first memorable Christmas morning.
My thoughts then turned to the gifts we will give her… some building toys, pretend play toys, arts and crafts, a few books. I know she will love them.
Some of them will get played with for years to come. Some will be donated to Goodwill by the time she turns 3.
Such is the nature of gift giving.
Regardless, within 5 years, all but a few of the toys she plays with now will be discarded. By the time my daughter graduates from high school, even the best of the best will be sitting in a box, waiting to be passed on to her children.
20 Ways to Build Character in Kids This Christmas
If we are going to be honest, as much as we want to spoil our children materially during this and subsequent holiday seasons, it is far more important to give them gifts that will not fade. Gifts that will serve our kids well through the stormy years of adolescence, the shaky foundation of their twenties, and as they build the foundation for the life they will lead as an adult. Here is a list of the ‘enduring gifts’ I want to give to my daughter. Admittedly, the list is quite long. However, here are the 20 items that filtered to the top (in no particular order):
Wow, life is tough, isn’t it? We wish bad things would not happen to our kids, but we know that sooner or later (probably sooner), rain will fall in their lives. I want to give my daughter the mental and emotional tenacity to bend, not break, when presented with life’s challenges.
2. Generosity of Spirit
It is more blessed to give, than to receive. How about giving our kids the gift the joy that comes from routinely pouring themselves out for others. Giving of money–sure thing. But also giving freely of their time, talent, and heart. I believe that this pouring out of oneself is a key ingredient to lasting happiness.
3. Authentic Faith
For our family, this is a process that started from the moment our daughter was born. How do you teach a child about the omnipotence and authority of God? About the love and sacrifice of Jesus? About right and wrong? About grace and salvation? About sin? How do you do this in a way that neither minimizes the essence of faith nor hits a child over the head with the legalistic finer points? Probably the greatest gift I can give my daughter is the spiritual foundation she will need so when she is able to think critically about her faith, she doesn’t decide to scrap it all together, but makes an informed decision to believe in God. Hopefully this decision will be born out of love, free will, and a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity that can separate the essential ingredients of faith from the cumbersome trappings of man-made rules and opinions.
Oh how I hope to give my daughter the gift of passion. Enthusiasm is contagious! Being passionate about life, about your relationships, your career, your creative pursuits- whatever makes you tick- is the difference between a life well-lived and mediocrity. As a parent, I am not really concerned about what my daughter does with her life… but whatever she chooses, I hope that she does it with gusto!
Being gracious goes beyond simply being considerate. Knowing how to be gracious, especially in the midst of adversity, is a sign of strength. Extending grace is also an act of humility- a recognition that you may not have all the answers, that your way or your needs may not be the most important. Being gracious transmits the powerful message that other people matter and is a tacit recognition that nobody is perfect.
6. Freedom to Fail and the Courage to get back up
Don’t cry over spilled milk, right? It is so important for parents to give kids the space to be bad at something.. to fail at something. Our kids won’t be good at everything and that is just fine. The point is, they will be good at something… and that something will hopefully fuel their future passion (see #5). So, I want my daughter to fail. However, I don’t want her to give up. In order to succeed, she has to view failure as just another step in the path to success. It takes courage and determination not to give up. I hope to give her both the freedom to fail, and the tools necessary to get back up again.
7. Inner drive and motivation
Some say you can’t really teach this but I disagree. I still remember a Daddy-daughter chat from when I was 7 or 8 years old about the importance of ‘hustling’– of working hard to achieve something important. That lesson has stuck with me. I hope to model this inner drive to my daughter and in turn create an environment where inner drive and striving to achieve your dreams are considered a normal part of life’s ‘standard operating procedures.’
8. The art of the long view (perspective)
It is hard for anyone to think about their life strategically, much less a child. So, I am not expecting that my daughter will have it all figured out before she graduates from high school, or even college. Seriously.. I am still figuring it all out. Aren’t we all? However, I have learned that some things are just not worth focusing on. Perspective is essential if our kids are expected to make good decisions about their lives, about who to love, how to fill their time, what to value. For me, I hope to model an ‘eternal’ perspective for my daughter, to show her what it looks like to live life on this earth as a ‘citizen of heaven.’ In the end, that is what is going to matter. Having that perspective has helped give me the clarity and perspective I have needed to focus on the most important things in life. I hope my daughter will benefit from thinking strategically about her life too.
9. Intrinsic Worth
As a parent, you can already see signs of messaging in your kids’ lives. As our kids quickly mature from a toddler through preschool, grade school, tween years, adolescence, and young adulthood, our kids will be bombarded with so many messages about what they should look like, how they should act, what they should do, who they should be. Some of those messages will be fantastic but I know from my own experience that so many more will be degrading, inflammatory, deceptive, destructive.
For my part, I hope that by the time the outside world gets a chance to mess with my daughter, I will be able to instill in her a rock solid foundation of proof that she is highly valued just the way she is, thank you very much. I don’t want her to fall victim to the negative messages. Instead I want her to be assured that because she is a child of God, because she is loved by many many people, because she has intrinsic qualities that are worth a great deal, she does not have to compromise herself to fit in to whatever mold society says she must conform to.
10. Do the right thing for the right reason
It isn’t enough to fear punishment. I hope my daughter will develop a strong sense of moral clarity and will be driven by the conviction to do the right thing, not driven out of fear.
11. How to enjoy being alone
I am an extrovert and as such love being around people. However, I have discovered the decadence of holding my own company. I realize that to many people this is a sign of desperation. However, for me it is very liberating. I hope to pass that inner security on to my daughter.
12. How to apologize and how to forgive
Two sides of the same coin, right? I am not even sure which one is more important. One takes an enormous amount of humility. The other takes an enormous amount of graciousness. Both are indispensable if any of our kids are to have close and continuing relationships with the people in their lives.
13. How to have crazy, silly, fun!
Laugh! Dance! Walk like a chicken! Sing at the top of your lungs! Get dirty.. really dirty! Make a mess! Be loud! Does this really need any more explanation?
14. Great Story
It is important to give our kids the gift of great stories to tell to their kids and themselves about the narrative of their lives. My husband and I aim to do this by establishing numerous family traditions (not just holiday traditions), laughing a lot, exploring a lot, and just having fun being with each other.
15. What a loving relationship looks like
The best way to ensure my daughter has loving relationships when she is an adult is to model them when she is a child. How am I treating her Daddy? How do I treat my parents? What does a great friendship look like? What does she observe about my relationship with God? There are no self help books or psycho-therapists that will be as powerful an influence on the future health of my daughter’s relationships, as the example that she learns through watching me and my husband interact with her, each other, and those around us. I want to ensure that framework is as healthy and loving as I possibly can.
16. A lifelong love of books, music, and other cultures
You might simply call this intellectual curiosity. Whatever you call it, I want my daughter to have it. Shelves piled high with books, the thrill of experiencing great music live, the ability to make music through singing and playing a musical instrument, learning a foreign language, travel to exotic locations (even if exotic merely means the next town over), curiosity about how stuff works. I know her life will be greatly enriched if she cultivates this kind of curiosity.
17. The gift of fear
Most parents do not want their kids to live afraid. However, most parents do want to give their kids a healthy dose of skepticism regarding the world around them. I want my daughter to trust her gut when it warns her of a dangerous situation. I don’t want her to be jaded, but I also don’t want gullibility to harm her either.
There is so much to this gift. Sure, I want to teach my daughter how to take care of her physical needs and be physically fit and strong. However, I also want to cultivate an inner strength in her– a resolve to stay true to her valued principles, true to herself.
19. How to communicate effectively
I want to teach my daughter the power of the written and spoken word. I want to impress upon her that words matter. That words can build up and words can destroy. I want to give her the gift of being able to express herself articulately. I want to teach her that listening is often more important than speaking. Seeking to understand is more important than being understood.
20. That no matter what, I will always love her and always will be there for her
This commitment is one of the most important gifts I can give my daughter- the knowledge that no matter what decisions she makes, she can always count on me to be in her corner– even if I don’t agree with her. I want to give her the gift of knowing that I love her fiercely, and that to the best of my ability I will strive to model the agape love that God has for me in our relationship. Really, there is nothing more important.
What ‘enduring’ gifts do you plan to give your child? What would you add to this list?
Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!
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