Raising Thoughtful Children
By Edie Jones
Values! What’s most important to you? The qualities and characteristics we impart to our children are, hopefully, the ones we value as parents. How important it is to recognize that we teach our children values from the minute they are born through everything we do. Making specific things part of our normal interactions with our kids assures we’re on the right track.
Parents often ask how to teach values, especially when they are not associated with a religious belief or an extended family. Most importantly, parents need to know what they value. Talking about what you value and having it reflected through you is primary to teaching it. In other words, lead by example. If honesty is something you value, Always Be Truthful. If kindness is something you value, Demonstrate it at every opportunity. Talk about it with your kids when it happens. Otherwise, they may miss it.
If you have religious beliefs and traditions, don’t leave the teaching of them to chance. When beliefs are important to you make them important to your kids. This can only happen by repetition, imitation, discussion and practice. Be diligent about choosing religious services over other events (sporting competitions, outings, etc.) whenever you can. You won’t be able to always achieve this goal as society often leans the other way, however, send the message to others about your priorities and you may be able to change scheduling to better fit your needs.
Our kids were all competitive swimmers and we found there were certain times of the year that going to church on Sunday morning wasn’t possible. When this happened we made extra effort to get there when we could.
One year I taught Sunday school and had to consistently miss the worship service. Our oldest two were asked to listen carefully so they could later convey to me important parts of the message. Of course, they didn’t get it all. I appreciated what they did share and it made for interesting and educational conversation later at lunch.
Watch for opportunities to involve your kids in outreach and giving. When they have outgrown clothes or toys let them decide to which charity or group these items will go. Have them involved in cleanup or repair, even if it’s just handing Dad a tool to change a tire on the bike that is being passed on.
This same idea applies to things that are being passed down from one sibling to another. As our four grew out of things (sweaters, bikes, other toys, etc.) we encouraged these to be given as birthday or Christmas gifts to whoever was going to inherit the item. Making sure all was ready and wrapping it with care added to the excitement both experienced at the time of the gifting. This also helped with parting from cherished items.
My in-laws were responsible for another of our family traditions. As my husband’s parents grew older, they would pass on at Christmas time something they had treasured, labeling these “Heritage Gifts.” It was a way of letting everyone know what was important to each, giving an opportunity to share why it was valued.
Be aware when opportunities to build values happen. Recently our granddaughters each wrote us handwritten, chatty letters that arrived via “snail” mail. How tempting it was to respond by email. What a missed opportunity if we had. Letter writing is almost a thing of the past and not valued as it was previously. Hopefully, this is the beginning of sharing a tradition that is fast disappearing. What a loss
of an important value if that happens.
Your values need to direct the things you want to work on immediately. If you don’t know what you want to accomplish, you’ll never get there. The decisions we make as parents are always based on our values and have an impact on our parenting styles, so setting priorities is important. Figuring out what we value and clarifying this in our thoughts helps create both short- and long-term goals. Often it’s easier to accomplish what we want by writing them down. Let’s say three things you highly value are 1) honesty, 2) kindness, and 3) personal growth.
Three long-term parenting goals that will help accomplish these are:
- Always keep the promises you make to your children. For example When separation is difficult say, “I’m going to the store and will be back after lunch”, and remind them that you said, “I will come back,” when you return.
- Support and help others when needed and encourage your children to do the same. Have your kids bake something for a neighbor and go with them to rake leaves. Have them help you decide which toys
are to be given to the Goodwill or Habitat.
- Learn as much as you can about managing parenting challenges, to help you learn about yourself and grow as a person.
Three short-term parenting goals that will help accomplish these are:
- Become aware of your feelings when stressed and work to send “I” messages instead of “You” messages that blame and shame. Apologize to your children when you make a mistake.
- Point out and draw your children’s attention to the many positive things in your lives.
- Know child development and what to expect as appropriate behavior at every “age and stage”.