Teaching our deeply-held values to our children is one of our most important parental tasks. It is a truism that our children learn more from our actions than our words. But children often remain oblivious to the values-based thinking that governs our actions. Instead, they hold their observations under an umbrella of that’s what parents do. They rarely ponder the reason which might have driven our decisions. In fact, they are often convinced that we decide out of meanness, spite or a general desire to make their lives miserable!
To ensure that kids get the lesson behind every choice we make, we must make the thoughts and choices visible to them and share our reasons for doing these things. Even if we feel silly or self-conscious, let's choose to do it anyway. Imparting our values is too important to leave to chance or the wavering attention of children. Here are just a few examples:
We visited Tom in the hospital because he’s our friend and we wanted him to know we care about him and value his friendship.
We’re attending this community fundraiser because we believe in their efforts to help provide food for people in need.
I’m taking this class because I always wanted to learn….
I’m working on behalf of this candidate because I think he/she will serve us well.
I recycle because it is good for the environment so you can grow up in a clean world.
Even if you get the biggest eye rolls, not only will they have seen your actions, they will understand the reasons that motivated you. Over the stretch of time, they will begin to observe a pattern of behaviors and choices that will serve as a template of values in action that they can follow.
I celebrated my birthday this month and my son gave me a pair of earrings, long dangly ones, exactly what I like. But what made them really special was they bore this tag: “100% Socially Reinvested to Transform the Lives of Women. One Bead. One Hope.” I took note of the tag line and my son said, “Yeah, well… I know you go for that kind of stuff.”
This tickled me because I do try to shop at businesses that make a difference. And my son noticed.
Perhaps our kids will embrace the same values or causes that we hold dear. Perhaps not. But if we allow them to become aware of how we live a values-based life, they will recognize the importance of values as our guiding compass.
One of our family values is “to be a contribution.” As I try to teach this value to my little grandson, I talk about how important it is to be a helper. He now understands that we value helpfulness. Yet he has not fully learned the many ways one can be helpful. Our job is to teach them how to be helpful:
Thank you for getting your plate out of the cabinet, that was helpful.
Thank you for getting my water shoes out of my closet. You are a helper!
It is also important and effective to point out the ways in which we help them. This further expands the ways in which helpfulness occurs and it increases their awareness and appreciation for the ways we help them. This in turn highlights the warm feelings which we/they experience when someone helps them. A win/win for all of us!
I found the toy car you lost and I put it on your shelf. I feel happy when I help you.
I fixed your bicycle tire; you can ride it again. I enjoy watching you ride it.
Another benefit of intentionally making our values visible is that it brings them to consciousness. We automatically become more aware of them andwhen we succeed or fail to live them well. Our actions become more aligned with our intentions and our children become more immersed in our values.
Choose one core value to focus on this week. How will you exemplify it? How will your children be able to experience it? How will you help them to live it within their own actions?
Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.
Read these book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective.