- "Family values” can be a loaded term – but, political associations aside, they’re also an important bedrock of parenting.
The way children learn values, simply put, is by observing what you do, and drawing conclusions about what you think is important in life. Regardless of what you consciously teach them, your children will emerge from childhood with clear views on what their parents really value, and with a well-developed value system of their own.
Parents are not the only source from which children learn values, and peers certainly influence your kids, especially as teenagers. And of course, it's healthy for young people to think for themselves and develop their own world view, as much as we may want to influence our children.
Values in most families are never directly discussed. Most of us assume our children will develop values automatically, like magic. Teaching values consciously starts with considering what our values are and finding ways in daily life to discuss and live them on with our children.
In my experience over the years with my children i feel the values below are crucial for parents to instil in children.
- Kindness- This should make the top of the list for families who want to define their values, because it sets the stage for many other important traits like generosity, empathy compassion, and equity. Modelling kindness to your kids can also help them see how good it feels for someone to be kind, which encourages them to mirror it in other interactions
- Self compassion-It’s also important for kids to learn how to be kind to themselves. One way to do that, is developing a family culture where making mistakes is okay, but negative self-talk is not. For example, on a hard day at work, take a break to do something you enjoy, and explain to your kids that nobody is perfect, and sometimes our minds and bodies need rest sometimes to refuel.
- Integrity is another important skill your kids will need to function well later on in life. Parents can demonstrate integrity by following through on promises. For example, if you tell your son you’ll read him a book after your meeting, do everything in your power to do that instead of answering emails or hopping on another call. These are steps to creating blueprints for your child’s future.
- Responsibility- When they have a chance to contribute in meaningful ways, kids will feel like important members of the family – which will also promote positive family relationships and better behaviour. A sense of responsibility also helps kids own up to mistakes and try to repair them. Say your older child hits your younger one. When the value of responsibility is instilled, the older kid could identify their role in hurting the younger sibling, and hopefully become more empathetic along the way.
- Mutual Respect-If you want your kids to respect you and others, start by instilling a value of mutual respect – everyone respects everyone. Practically, that could look like respecting your kids’ boundaries when they tell you to stop tickling them or listening to, and implementing, their ideas for what to do on a weekend. The idea is to show your kids what it feels like to be heard and considered, so they can do the same for other people (including you).
. Honesty - is a core component of positive relationships in your family and your kids’ success in other areas, from school to friendships. Being honest as a parent, whether you admit when you’re wrong or share your own struggles in age-appropriate ways, also teaches your kids they can tell the truth, even when they’re afraid of the consequences. The skill of honesty can also help keep your kids safe – when they feel like they can be open with you about what’s going on, they’ll involve you in their decision-making process.
. Flexibility- or adaptability as a value to help your family adjust to change. This value will not only help your entire family deal with last-minute changes in plans, it will also equip your kids to come up with creative strategies to make the best of difficult situations later in life.
Fairness-To make positive strides against issues like systemic racism, kids need to understand the basic concept of fairness – and to see it modelled in everyday life at home. For example, when your kids are playing with toys, make sure everyone gets a turn. These lessons might seem small at first, but they’ll go a long way in shaping how your kids treat others later on. It’s a simple but crucial value that all families should emphasize.