4 ways to teach our kids virtue

4 ways to teach our kids virtue

I want to my girls to grow up knowing right from wrong.  I want them to understand that virtue is important in life.  This is very difficult to teach in a world that has little regard for virtue but it must be done.

4 ways to teach our kids virtue

(from Chuck Colson’s article “Can Virtue Be Taught?” in Focus on the Family’s “Thriving Family” magazine).

1. Be there.

The process of cultivating virtue in our children begins at home — with mothers and fathers loving one another and being active in their children’s lives. Being present often means making sacrifices, whether those sacrifices are as large as giving up a dual income or as small as missing “Monday Night Football.” We make sacrifices in order to be more than a chauffeur and a meal ticket to our kids.

But presence, as important as that is, is not enough. Talking through real-life situations with your kids could help them make wise decisions in their lives. But as anyone who has spent any time with a child knows, a 30-minute didactic lesson on virtue will go in one ear and out the other. Engage your child in a discussion without the lecture.

2. Teach absolute truth.

To cultivate virtue, we must begin with the most basic element: There is truth, and we can know it. This notion of truth may seem obvious to some, but with the rise of relativism today, we can’t afford to assume kids believe in absolutes.

Do a simple exercise with your kids. Explain that there are natural laws in the universe, such as the law of gravity. Drop a pencil. Or, if you’re willing to give your child a laugh at your expense, drop a heavy object on your own foot.

Ask your kids what just happened. Then ask them what would happen if you dropped the object 1,000 times. Explain that the object would fall to the ground every time because there are absolute principles at work. Ask: How many times does it take someone to learn that there are absolute truths? They’ll get it.

3. Model virtue.

With foundations of absolute truth in place, we must then teach a child virtue by modeling it. My own father did exactly that. I learned the value of hard work from him. He dropped out of high school to care for his widowed mother. Later in life, he became an accountant and then a lawyer. It took 12 grueling years of night school as he worked full time to support our family during the Great Depression.

I learned from him that life is not about looking out for No. 1 but instead about sacrifice, hard work and a good that extends farther than our own backyard. I took those lessons to heart by age 12, building and selling model airplanes to support the war effort and writing an article titled “How Americans Can Do Their Part to Win the War” for a Boston newspaper. I share that not to pat myself on the back, but rather to explain how high expectations and a worthy example can draw out the best from a child.

And modeling virtue for our children now will pay dividends later. My father taught me never to lie. It’s a lesson that stuck with me even at the darkest moment of my life — Watergate. The prosecution made me an offer: If I would cooperate with them, they would only charge me with a misdemeanor, not a felony. A felony meant jail time and the loss of my ability to practice law. But the problem was they wanted me to testify to things that weren’t true. I couldn’t do it, no matter the cost. I turned down the deal and went to prison — a decision I have never regretted.

4. Share heroes from history.

While we model virtuous behavior for our children, we can also inspire them with examples from the Bible. Daniel and his compatriots defied Nebuchadnezzar rather than reject God. Paul defended the faith amid persecution. Yet, the Bible also shows us characters whose flaws were never expunged. Abraham left his land in obedience to God but also lied about Sarah being his sister. And Peter, that great rock of faith, denied Christ three times. The Bible points us to our need for a virtuous Savior — a need that Christ fully meets.

You may also point your children to heroes from history who showed great courage to stand for truth: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who defied Hitler); Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks; Alexander Solzhenitsyn (who bravely spoke against the Soviet regime).

Finally, let your children see modern- day examples of those who exhibit virtue. Get your kids involved at church. There, they will rub shoulders with men and women who, albeit imperfectly, are seeking to live virtuous lives as they care for those in need.


We must exhibit — and teach our kids to have — the courage to do the right thing even if we have to pay a price. That requires what Lewis correctly called the most important virtue.

How are you teaching your kids virtue?

Categories: Parenting


  • Great suggestions and truth here. I know that my kids have to see us as parents “doing the stuff” and then participating in it for themselves. Whether it’s serving others, praying for the lost, reading the Bible, or any number of things–they have a tremendous leg-up if we model and help them participate. Thanks Kevin.

  • William Amis says:

    Simple rule of thumb is doing things that make you feel good and is pleasing to God. Let me ask you this, would you do anything if everyone can see you? That is what our children are like sponges and catch on since they are born. They reflect parents in action and movement.

    If your a person who believes in supporting others with passion that is great and it will be seen by your children. Now, if you only talk and not have action that too will be learned by your children.

    Lead by example and do not ask your children to do something you have not done yourself. They pick up on that all the time. Just saying because your the parent doesn’t work anymore. We have brighter children than in our growing days. They have the internet and all the vast tools to get information that would amazing even you.

    Keep the communication open and guide them as you would be yourself. Remembering that they are and will always be the child and not your friend. Your the parent so stop making every attempt to be their best friends. That is what confuses most children One moment your acting as an equal and then the next not.

    I have 36 years of raising a hard son and he was prepared the best way. We lead by example and made sure he understands we are his parents not friends. Hard choices and they were made being a responsible parent not an equal. Facing reality sometimes is hard on us parents not the child. They will always find something to complain about no matter how deep in the body of Christ they may be. They will and always be our little children even when they reach our son’s age.

  • Steve Borgman says:

    Be There. That is the one most important principle I learned from this article. And while being there, I can implement the other 3 strategies. Thanks so much for sharing this article. Another way to prepare our kids morally is to role play moral challenges they may face, and then ask them how they will handle those things when they come up.

  • Born27 says:

    I agree with you Kevin! this is a primary responsibility of parents and other immediate family members, followed by school authorities. The virtues of an individual is sown in their childhood and nurtured as they grow up. Thanks for sharing this to and i’m looking forward to read more from you.

  • carol says:

    Those 4 ways are great.Thanks for sharing those information for kids.

  • floyd says:

    I needed this tonight. I’ve failed today… but not tomorrow…

    Thanks to you and Jason.

    I love the stories of great men like your dad… That’s the kind of man I want to be.

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