5 Values To Teach Our Kids
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart. And you shall teach them to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up. – Deuteronomy 6:7
This bible quote has always been important to me because it teaches me to teach by example. It teaches me to teach when I am sitting at home and when I walk on the way. I should live what I teach.
5 Values to Teach Our Kids
What Are Your Values?
Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work.
They (should) determine your priorities, and, deep down, they’re probably the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it to.
When the things that you do and the way you behave match your values, life is usually good – you’re satisfied and content. But when these don’t align with your personal values, that’s when things feel… wrong. This can be a real source of unhappiness.
This is why making a conscious effort to identify your values is so important.
Values exist, whether you recognize them or not. Life can be much easier when you acknowledge your values – and when you make plans and decisions that honor them.
If you value family, but you have to work 70-hour weeks in your job, will you feel internal stress and conflict? And if you don’t value competition, and you work in a highly competitive sales environment, are you likely to be satisfied with your job?
So, take the time to understand the real priorities in your life, and you’ll be able to determine the best direction for you and your life goals.
Values are usually fairly stable, yet they don’t have strict limits or boundaries. Also, as you move through life, different values will move up and down your priority list. For example, when you start your career, success – measured by money and status – might be a top priority. But after you have a family, work-life balance may be what you value more.
As your definition of success changes, so do your personal values. This is why keeping in touch with your values is a lifelong exercise. You should continuously revisit this, especially if you start to feel unbalanced… and you can’t quite figure out why.
As you go through the exercise below, bear in mind that values that were important in the past may not be relevant now.
Defining Your Values
When you define your personal values, you discover what’s truly important to you. A good way of starting to do this is to look back on your life – to identify when you felt really good, and really confident that you were making good choices.
Step 1: Identify the times when you were happiest
Find examples from both your career and personal life. This will ensure some balance in your answers.
- What were you doing?
- Were you with other people? Who?
- What other factors contributed to your happiness?
Step 2: Identify the times when you were most proud
Use examples from your career and personal life.
- Why were you proud?
- Did other people share your pride? Who?
- What other factors contributed to your feelings of pride?
Step 3: Identify the times when you were most fulfilled and satisfied
Again, use both work and personal examples.
- What need or desire was fulfilled?
- How and why did the experience give your life meaning?
- What other factors contributed to your feelings of fulfillment?
Step 4: Determine your top values, based on your experiences of happiness, pride, and fulfillment
Why is each experience truly important and memorable? Use the following list of common personal values to help you get started – and aim for about 10 top values. (As you work through, you may find that some of these naturally combine. For instance, if you value philanthropy, community, and generosity, you might say that service to others is one of your top values.)
Being the best
Making a difference
Step 5: Prioritize your top values
This step is probably the most difficult because you’ll have to look deep inside yourself. It’s also the most important step, because, when making a decision, you’ll have to choose between solutions that may satisfy different values. This is when you must know which value is more important to you.
- Write down your top values, not in any particular order.
- Look at the first two values and ask yourself, “If I could satisfy only one of these, which would I choose?” It might help to visualize a situation in which you would have to make that choice. For example, if you compare the values of service and stability, imagine that you must decide whether to sell your house and move to another country to do valuable foreign aid work or keep your house and volunteer to do charity work closer to home.
- Keep working through the list, by comparing each value with each other value, until your list is in the correct order.
Step 6: Reaffirm your values
Check your top-priority values, and make sure they fit with your life and your vision for yourself.
- Do these values make you feel good about yourself?
- Are you proud of your top three values?
- Would you be comfortable and proud to tell your values to people you respect and admire?
- Do these values represent things you would support, even if your choice isn’t popular, and it puts you in the minority?
When you consider your values in decision making, you can be sure to keep your sense of integrity and what you know is right and approach decisions with confidence and clarity. You’ll also know that what you’re doing is best for your current and future happiness and satisfaction.
Making value-based choices may not always be easy. However, making a choice that you know is right is a lot less difficult in the long run.
Identifying and understanding your values is a challenging and important exercise. Your personal values are a central part of who you are – and who you want to be. By becoming more aware of these important factors in your life, you can use them as a guide to make the best choice in any situation.
Some of life’s decisions are really about determining what you value most. When many options seem reasonable, it’s helpful and comforting to rely on your values – and use them as a strong guiding force to point you in the right direction.
So, here are the values I try to live by that I want to teach others.
Value #1: Honesty
As the Deuteronomy quote suggests, the best way to encourage truthfulness in your child is to be a truthful person yourself.
Kids watch what we do, so it’s important that we try to avoid any kind of deception, even a seemingly innocuous one. (Never, for instance, say something like “Let’s not tell Daddy we got candy this afternoon.”) Let your child hear you being truthful with other adults.
But, don’t confuse honesty with bullying. Let’s say your child is not very good at sports. While it might be honest to tell them they are not good at sports, it is possible to say it in a way that can easily appear to be bullying. You need to be honest with yourself as to why you are telling them they are not good at sports. Are you telling them to simply be mean? You need to think about why you are telling them they aren’t very good.
The flip side of this kind of honesty is also something you should avoid. It is not being honest to tell a kid they are great at something, when in fact they are not. This kind of honesty does not build trust.
So, you have to find the right balance.
Value #2: Justice
At a recent family gathering, Amy and Marcus, 4-year-old cousins, were making castles out of wooden blocks. Suddenly, Amy knocked over Marcus’s castle, and he started to cry. Witnessing the scene, Amy’s father chided his daughter and ordered her to apologize. Amy dutifully said, “I’m sorry.”
Then her dad took her aside and asked, “Do you know why you pushed over his blocks?” She told him that she was mad because Marcus’s castle was bigger than hers. The dad told her that though this was no excuse for destroying her cousin’s castle, he could understand her feelings. He then sent her back to play.
The father’s reaction was similar to that of many psychologically savvy parents: He wanted his daughter to identify and express her feelings and to understand why she behaved as she did. That’s okay, but it isn’t enough. In order to help children internalize a true sense of justice, parents need to encourage them to take some action to remedy a wrong. For example, Amy’s dad might have suggested that she help Marcus rebuild his castle or that she bring him some cookies as a gesture of apology.
Saying “I’m sorry” is pretty easy for a child, and it lets her off the hook without forcing her to think. Having a child make amends in a proactive way conveys a much stronger message. If you’re aware that your child has acted badly toward someone, help him think of a way to compensate. Maybe he can give one of his trucks to a playmate whose toy he has damaged. Perhaps he could draw a picture for his sister after teasing her all day. By encouraging your child to make such gestures, you emphasize the importance of treating people fairly-an essential value that will one day help him negotiate the complicated world of peer-group relationships.
Value #3: Determination
Encourage Them To Take on a Challenge
Five-year-old Jake showed his mother a drawing that he’d made with his new crayons. “That’s very bright and colorful,” she told him. “Nice job!” The child then ran to his room and dashed off another drawing to bring to his mom for praise-then another and another.
“Each one was sloppier than the last,” his mother said. “I didn’t know what to say.” A good response might have been: “Well, Jake, that drawing isn’t as carefully done as your other one. Did you try your best on that?”
Determination is a value that you can encourage from a very young age. The easiest way to do so is by avoiding excessive praise and by providing children with honest feedback, delivered in a gentle, supportive fashion.
Another powerful way to help kids develop determination is to encourage them to do things that don’t come easily-and to praise them for their initiative. If your son is shy, for instance, quietly encourage him to approach kids on the playground, even if it makes him feel nervous and scared. If your daughter is quick to blow a fuse, teach her strategies (such as counting to ten or taking a deep breath) for holding back a temper tantrum. Congratulate kids when they manage to do things that are difficult for them. The child who hears “Good for you, I know that was really tough!” is bolstered by the recognition and becomes even more determined to keep trying.
Value #4: Consideration
Teach Them To Think about Others’ Feelings
Anne was frustrated because her daughters, ages 3 and 4, ended up whining and fighting every time she took them grocery shopping. “I finally told them that we needed to figure out how to do our shopping without everyone, including me, feeling upset,” Anne says.
The mom asked the girls for suggestions on how to make the trip to the grocery store a better experience for all. The 4-year-old suggested that they bring snacks from home so they wouldn’t nag for cookies. The 3-year-old said she would sing quietly to herself so she would feel happy.
The girls remembered their promises, and the next trip to the supermarket went much more smoothly. Leaving the store, the younger girl asked, “Do you feel really upset now, Mommy?” The mother assured her that she felt just fine and remarked how nice it was that nobody got into an argument.
Do these small problem-solving exercises actually help a child learn the value of consideration? You bet. Over time, even a young child sees that words or actions can make another person smile or feel better and that when she’s kind to someone else, that person is nice to her. This feedback encourages other genuine acts of consideration.
Value #5: Generosity & Love
Be Generous with Your Affection
Parents tend to think that children are naturally loving and generous with their affection. This is true, but for loving sentiments to last, they need to be reciprocated. It’s chilling to realize that over the course of a typical busy day, the phrase “I love you” is probably the one that a child is least likely to hear.
Let your child see you demonstrate your love and affection for the people in your life. Kiss and hug your spouse when the kids are around. Talk to your children about how much you love and appreciate their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
And, of course, don’t let a day pass without expressing your affection for your child himself. Show your love in unexpected ways: Pack a note in his lunch box. Tape a heart to the bathroom mirror so he’ll see it when he brushes his teeth. Give her a hug for no reason. Don’t allow frantic morning drop-offs or frenetic afternoon routines squeeze loving gestures out of your day.
I can practically guarantee you that the more you say “I love you” to your child, the more your child will say “I love you” back. The more hugs and kisses you give, the more your home will be filled with love and affection. And when our children feel free to express their love to us, we instill in them perhaps the greatest value of all.