Helping Your Kids Learn and Practice Family Values
Our values are the foundational beliefs that help us determine right from wrong, that give balance and meaning to our lives, and that help us form meaningful relationships with others. As parents and caregivers, our values also shape the way we raise the young people in our care and what we hope to teach them about life as they grow.
According to the Pew Research Foundation, parents and caregivers in the United States today tend to put a lot of thought into the values they’d like to teach their children. Overall, parents say that teaching responsibility, hard work, the value of helping others, being well-mannered, being independent, being creative and showing empathy are the top values they hope to pass down to their kids. While there is no right and wrong when it comes to what we as individuals value most, trying to transmit our values to our kids can feel challenging when there are so many other influences in their lives.
Learning and practicing your family values now – as the world spins and normal routines and events are on pause – can help kids feel a sense of agency about how they’ll cope with disruption and upheaval. As they grow, and the world continues to change and evolve, having a solid grounding and knowing right from wrong will help your kids live a life they feel good about.
Read on for simple, everyday ways to teach your kids the family values that matter most to you!
Most kids get immense satisfaction from doing a job well, so giving them opportunities to complete tasks and chores is a great way to help them learn responsibility. As your child grows, give them increasingly difficult (though age appropriate) chores and tasks. When they finish, be sure to praise what they did well and all the hard work they put into the task.
Fostering a strong work ethic in a child might seem overwhelming, but in reality, you’re probably already doing it! Kids develop a strong work ethic when they see the benefits of their hard work – you can help them see these benefits by working together on long-term projects that have a tangible outcome. Plant a garden together and watch as your hard work turns into something beautiful and delicious; build something together and let them enjoy the product; or simply plan a meal together and let them accompany you and help as you shop, prep, and cook the food they’ll get to enjoy!
Kids are far more likely to develop the behaviors they see modeled than to develop behaviors their parents talk about but don’t do themselves. If you want your child to grow up to value helping others, model what this looks like in your everyday life. In both large acts of volunteerism and small acts of kindness, your child will see the impact it makes when you help others. As they grow, ask them to think about how they can help people in their everyday life and talk about how it feels when they follow through.
Manners matter because they’re one way we show others that we care for and appreciate them. Besides modeling good manners, you can teach your child the value of manners by giving them plenty of opportunities to use them. Sit down for family meals when you’re able to or attend events that require well-mannered behavior in public. Praise your child’s good manners when they show them, and gently model appropriate responses when they show they still need some practice.
Striking the balance between fostering independence and providing an overwhelming amount of support can be difficult for parents. Often, parents want their children to be independent but struggle to let them try something without success. Parents can foster independence and provide meaningful support by being present and helping their child work through challenges by asking lots of questions and encouraging them to think through solutions independently. When your child is struggling with a homework problem, instead of stepping in and showing them how to solve it, show support and foster independence by sitting with them and asking questions like, “What are some resources you could use to help you solve the problem?”
It often seems that kids are naturally creative but, as they grow, this creativity seems to fade. Parents can foster their child’s natural sense of creativity by allowing them to come up with unique solutions to their problems and by offering them lots of opportunities to think outside the box. Parents can also foster creativity by ensuring that their kids have plenty of unstructured time throughout the day. While extracurricular activities can be a great way to get kids thinking in new ways and exploring their interests, leaving some days activity-free can give them the time and space they need to flex their creativity muscles!
Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is a valuable skill for both kids and adults. Young children aren’t developmentally ready to express empathy but, as they grow, there’s a lot parents can do to foster its development. Parents can foster empathy in their children by asking them to examine situations from multiple viewpoints as they read stories or watch movies together. Simply asking a child how multiple people might feel about the same situation is a great way to get them thinking about and relating to the feelings of others.
No matter what values are most important to your family, by modeling them, talking about them openly and finding opportunities for kids to practice them, you can help your kids learn to appreciate them!