Passing on Positive Values

When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.
—Roy E. Disney, businessman and nephew of Walt Disney

Our values act as an internal compass—guiding us through a world of choices and opportunities. We sometimes take for granted that our children will grow up sharing our values and will eventually begin to base their decisions on those values. But that’s not always the case, and it’s even less likely if we don’t clearly communicate two things to them: What we believe and how those beliefs shape our own lives, and the core values we hope they’ll develop and act upon.

Here are ways you can help pass on positive values within your family:

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • List five or six key values that guide your life. Several common and important values identified by Search Institute are caring for others, a commitment to equality and social justice, integrity, honesty, taking personal responsibility, and having a healthy lifestyle.
    • Make conversation about your values a part of family tradition, such as during a weekly dinnertime. Pose a question that everyone thinks about and answers, and establish the ground rule that careful listening is more important than passing judgment. Remember, values change and evolve as growth occurs
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Children who feel that others respect their feelings and care about their well-being are more likely to care for others. Be sensitive to your children’s emotional needs, and help them learn healthy ways to express their feelings.
    • Compliment your children when they act on the positive values you want to reinforce, such as saying, “Thank you, Marcel, for being so kind and gentle with the kitten.” or “I’m so glad you told me the truth, even though you thought I might be angry.”
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Arrange to spend time in activities that include both your children and adults or older youth whose values you share. Let your kids see that it’s important to be with people whose positive values guide their lives.
    • Together, read stories about children from other parts of the world. Talk about the similarities and differences between their lives, which are neither good nor bad and that can be fun, exciting, and fun to learn about. See UNICEF’s A Life Like Mine—How Children Live Around the World and Anabel Kindersley’s Children Just Like Me—A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World.
    • Intentionally start conversations with your kids about honesty, friendships, giving to others, and making tough decisions so that you can hear how their values are taking shape.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Search online or ask a librarian for recommendations of books that showcase characters struggling to decide which values are important to them, who act on their values, or who otherwise explore positive and negative values. Appealing and award-winning titles include Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series.
    • Preteens and teens find their personal values challenged and molded every day. If your child likes to debate certain values with you, by all means participate in the conversation. For example, if you think it’s important to always tell the truth, but your child thinks it’s best sometimes to tell a small lie to avoid hurting people’s feelings, seize the opportunity to engage in a respectful conversation that highlights the reasons for your stand. Even if you end up agreeing to disagree, you can model a show of respect for others’ integrity and demonstrate positive communication.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Be willing to discuss with your teens the values-based choices you’ve made, whether they’re related to using alcohol legally and responsibly, making good relationship decisions, or choosing an education and career path. Teenagers need to know it’s normal to feel torn between what’s important and right and behavior that doesn’t match their beliefs and values. Understanding how you personally deal with this tension will help them make the best possible choices.
    • Assume your teenagers will “try on” different identities, worldviews, and ways of being at this age. It’s part of the normal process of figuring out who they are and how they fit into the world. That means it’s very important for you to continue talking about, modeling, and setting limits based on your own values and those you want to pass along.
  • Defending personal values may sometimes mean your teens get intolerant or belittling responses from their friends or acquaintances. Your support for your children is crucial.

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