Respect, kindness, honesty, courage, perseverance, self-discipline, compassion, generosity, dependability. Most parents want to instill these kinds of values in their children. Doing so will protect them from potentially negative societal influences and lay the foundation for them to become good citizens. We’re not fulfilling our responsibilities as parents if we don’t try to instill solid morals in our children. Of course, this is often easier said than done. Teaching values takes time -a scarce commodity for many parents today. ‘Our increasingly competitive economy is creating an environment where Mom and Dad are spending longer hours at work and fewer hours with their children’, as a result, outside influences like peer pressure and the entertainment industry-through the Internet, television, movies, video games and music-are having a greater affect on children, shaping their perspectives more than ever before.
What’s a parent to do? ‘You need to make time to be with your kids and make the time you have with them really count’ is what specialists say; ‘talk with them about what’s right and wrong, and what constitutes good behavior and what doesn’t’. Have these kinds of conversations with your kids on a regular basis so that the topic of values becomes a completely ‘normal’ one in your household. That way, in the future, if your children do face moral conundrums, they’re going to be more comfortable broaching the subject with you than with their peers. That may sound like a tall order, especially if most of your dialogue with your children revolves around “What’s for dinner?” or “Where’s the remote control?” Still, there are many ways to weave lessons about values into your everyday interactions with your children. Let’s look at some practical suggestions that will help.
Model good values
One of the most important things you can do is set a good example for your children. They learn from seeing how you treat them, overhearing your interactions with others and observing what you do in different situations throughout the day.
If you want your children to exhibit values like honesty, self-respect and compassion, then you need to show these qualities yourself. All the teaching in the world can be undone if your children watch you behave in ways that contradict what you’ve said.
Apologize to your children when you make mistakes
When you fall short with your children, not only do you need to acknowledge your mistake, you also need to tell them you’re sorry. This shows them that you value and respect their thoughts, perspectives and feelings. You’re also modeling an important way to show respect to others, and how to accept responsibility for your mistakes.
Use everyday experiences as a springboard for conversation
Almost every day something happens that can provide you with an opportunity to teach your children about values. Use these incidents as conversation starters. It could be an incident you hear about in the news, something you or your children do or something you and they observe someone else do. These can make great on-the-spot lessons. If you read an article in the newspaper about someone’s heroic deed, you might ask your children, “What would you have done if you had been in the same situation?”
Share your personal experiences
Most of us can look back at our past and think of a lot of experiences that taught us some valuable lessons. Be willing to share some of those stories with your children, especially those that illustrate how you made choices that were consistent with good values. You might tell of a time when you stood up for your convictions rather than going along with the crowd, befriended a classmate at school whom everyone else was teasing, turned in a lost wallet rather than keeping the money for yourself, or worked really hard to achieve a particular goal. When you tell each story, describe why it was such a moral dilemma, how you came to make the decision you did, and how everything turned out.
Don’t let your children take the easy way out of challenges
You should require your children to finish projects they start, even if their endeavors get tough, tiring or mundane. Suppose your son begs to sign up for football and then wants to quit after two weeks of practices. Perhaps your daughter signed up for French class but a week later she wants to drop it when she discovers how much the teacher expects students to work and achieve. For the most part, you should not let your children get out of these kinds of commitments (there are exceptions, of course).
Involve your children in encouraging and helping others
Encourage your children to help others whenever they can. It’s amazing how helpful they can be to others just through simple acts of kindness, such as making get-well cards for people who are sick, befriending shy or new kids at school. Try to motivate your children to do these kinds of things. Be on the lookout for people who might need help and lead your kids to reach out to them. You might also want to get your children involved in a more formal type of service project. This is not only a great way to serve others, but your children have the opportunity to develop and practice virtues such as generosity, kindness, compassion and respect.
Applaud good behavior
When you observe your children doing something good, let them know you are pleased with their actions. Thank your children when they clean their rooms without being asked or they do their homework without grumbling. Acknowledge what a good job they did when they finished a seemingly grueling school assignment. If you walk into the living room and notice your children playing nicely together, tell them how wonderful it makes you feel to see them getting along so well. Sincere praise goes a long way in reinforcing behaviors you’d like to see more of.
Communication is the key
The bottom line is that you need to communicate with your children. Talk about what they did right, what they did wrong, how to make better moral decisions, what character traits you want to see in them, and why you’ve made certain choices in your own life. Granted, it takes time to have these kinds of conversations, but you’ll find the results worth the investment.