By Little Harvard

Help your Child Develop Values for Character Building by being aware of how to support them.

Some psychologists think values are impossible to teach, and it is certainly true that telling kids to be more honest, or diligent, or considerate, doesn’t work any better than telling adults to be. But if values are impossible to teach, they are too important to leave to chance.

But how do kids learn values, then? 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.

How to Help your Child Develop Values for Character Building

Be aware of what you’re modelling.

It isn’t what you say, it’s what you do. If you tell the kids that soccer is about fun and skills and exercise and teamwork, but your first question is about who won the game, they’ll learn that winning is more important than anything else. If you talk about honesty but lie about their age to get a cheaper ticket into the amusement park, it not only puts your child in an uncomfortable position, they learn that cheating is okay under certain circumstances.

Help your child develop empathy.

Empathy is the foundation of compassion, which is the foundation of values. Children don’t learn empathy by being told to feel it. The only way kids can learn empathy is by being treated empathically, and by watching you respond to others with compassion and kindness.

Talk about your values and why they are important to you.

What is integrity? Why is respectful behaviour important in a church? What do you think of the way the press is covering a particular issue? Helping children interpret the world is a crucial responsibility of parents. Talk to them about your thoughts, ideas and opinions, and ask them about their own.

Label and reinforce expression of values.

When you see your child demonstrating a value that’s important to you, recognise your child for it, as specifically as possible:

  •  “I noticed how kind you were to Ben when you tried to cheer him up.” 
  • “I really appreciated that you were honest with me about what happened at school.” 
  • “How generous of you to give one of your stuffed animals to Carmen!” 
  • “You figured out all by yourself how to get the homework assignment you missed. That’s what I call resourceful!”

Resist constant lecturing.

A lot of Parents find that every moment can be a “teachable moment”. It’s true, but teachable moments only work when children are ready to learn. Instead of giving a lecture about a subject, try asking questions to find out more about the decisions your child is making, and the thinking behind those decisions – and share your own views sparingly. Your child will probably learn more from the process of articulating his dilemmas and noticing the moral implications of his choices than he would have from a lecture – and he/she will feel more connected to you, too, because you’re listening.

Make it relevant to his world.

Values seem almost theoretical until kids start talking about their own lives, which, believe it or not, are chock full of value-laden decisions:

  • Is your child allowed to break a date with a friend, in order to accept another, much more exciting invitation?

Handling these decisions is what develops our values. Don’t miss the opportunity to help your child grow by supporting her in making conscious decisions.

Model community involvement.

Whether it’s running for the school board or volunteering at your church, your kids need to see that you’re committed to the welfare of the larger community. Help them appreciate how the invisible work of others helps each of us daily, and that the more blessings we have in our lives, the more responsibility we have to extend help to others.

Volunteer for community service projects as a family.

There is no better opportunity to teach your children by example than volunteering together. Not only it strengths the family bond, but it also teach them how great and important it is to do something good to help others – and how grateful we should be for having more than others.