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How to Teach Your Kids Important Values in the Upcoming Year
Humans are hardwired to strive towards progress and parents are no exception here. With a new year just around the corner, we feel like we’re blessed with a fresh start and a chance to do better this time.
We all want to raise our children with a solid moral foundation, teach them important skills and values, and support them in becoming responsible, caring, and healthy adults.
The question is: how do you actually do that?
For starters, accept the trial and error method. Parenting is a tough job, especially because it is a whole new role in one’s life and no one is bringing up a child on their own. Today’s kids are exposed to numerous influences: from media and the internet to peers, school, and even random strangers. Children soak in everything and process it in their own unique way.
For a parent, it can be challenging to isolate the bad influences.
Here are a few ways you can teach your kids the art of respect, responsibility, kindness, and caring for others.
Use Fairy Tales to Teach Children about Morals
The method of storytelling has been around for thousands of years: it’s one of the great things that make us humans. Science says fairy tales help your kids understand great messages but in an easy-consumable way, even though an unconscious process. Literary heroes are just another form of role model your child can rely on. They provide a good moral compass.
The structure of fairy tales includes an archetype of a hero’s journey that usually consists of three stages: separation, initiation and return. A certain hero leaves his home, pushes himself out of the comfort zone, faces the world and many challenges, learns a lot about himself and others, and then returns back. This pattern is nicely wrapped in a vivid and exciting adventure story.
Here are a few things your kid can learn from fairy tales:
- The good guys win but only after facing a few failures
- Failing is a normal part in the process of achieving success
- Preserving integrity through hard times is rewarding
- Treating others with respect is desirable
- Honesty pays off and strengthens relationship with others
- Love is essential for one’s life
- One gets what one gives
Even defining a moral lesson after a story could be beneficial. Dozens of different variations of famous storylines (e.g. Cinderella or Snow White) exist all around the globe, adapting to the cultural surroundings and specific values of a certain community. This means we are all connected through similar narratives our children can learn from.
If your kids are a bit older, you can turn to inspirational biographies and encourage them to seek role models outside of the circle of modern pop stars and celebrities who don’t really set good examples.
Encourage Them to Help Around
According to the Piagetian Developmental Theory, children go through a phase of egocentrism that means they are unable to understand other perspectives and positions outside their own. They’re focused on their personal needs without making a difference between the inner psychological world and the outer physical world. They expect full attention without giving any.
The best way to raise a compassionate child is to show them good practice and encourage them to help. Depending on your child’s age, you can assign him or her appropriate chores.
Participating in chores helps with increasing independency. Children love feeling capable even if it’s the simplest of tasks we’re talking about, such as feeding the dog, fluffing the pillows, or setting the table. According to the Harvard Study of Adult Development, taking part in home care is one of the ways to become happier and healthier: humans have an inborn instinct for helping others and the study showed that building close relationships is the key to happiness.
By letting your children help, you are actually letting them learn the importance of providing support to a person in need and you are giving them a chance to feel good about themselves in the process. The feelings of self-pride and usefulness are positive ones that can induce future good deeds.
By participating in home chores, your child will learn about the following:
- The importance of working together as a team
- The value of contributing in accordance with one’s possibilities
- The feeling of self-accomplishment after getting one work well done
- The cause-effect relationship (e.g. if your child doesn’t clean their room, it will be dirty and they won’t be able to play or enjoy their personal space)
- The significance of sacrificing one’s free time for a greater good
Some parents like to reward the beginning efforts with pennies, but think twice before resorting to this method: if money or a certain prize is introduced, your child may get the wrong idea and expect material benefits for every good deed in the future.
However, you can turn this around and use it for teaching your children two additional lessons: the value of money and importance of helping less fortunate. Award them with pennies for work that they have done and encourage them to give the money to charity.
Teach Them Respect for Elderly and Authorities
Nurturing respect for others is one of the greatest things your child has to learn. Here, it is crucial to be a great role model and help your child pick up a few things from your own personal behavior. This includes how you treat your spouse and parents, as well as other family members.
As a parent, you have to be fully aware that your child listens and observes everything you do. This is why you need to control your behaviour: don’t let your anger and frustration show through yelling or violent actions, and nurture healthy and assertive communication. It is essential to help your child develop interpersonal skills.
Start a conversation about it. When it comes to respecting authorities (be it a teacher or a police officer), explain to your child that they should not feel oppressed in these relationships but must respect those who have more experience and wisdom.
When it comes to nurturing respect towards the elderly, it would be best to encourage your child to build close relationships with their grandparents. Here are a few ways you can do that:
- Let them connect by spending a day together without you by their side
- Agree with your parents that they establish some basic rules and boundaries for your children
- Encourage your parents to speak about their life paths and what they’ve been through
- Subtly explain to your children the circle of life and make them understand that youth is not eternal
- Ask your parents to try and bridge the generation gap they have with your kid (this will encourage them to share the precious knowledge they each have – grandparents about times gone by, and children about technology or new music and personal interests)
By doing so, your child learns that the world has some sort of a system and that there are some hierarchies that need to be respected.
Honesty is the Best Policy (but not every time)
The differences between white lies and horrible deceits are one of the most complex things your child needs to comprehend. Lying or embellishing the truth is a part of adulthood: it is what helps us maintain good relationships with others and avoid unnecessary conflicts.
Of course, this is not to advocate lying as a good way to live. Rather, it’s a realistic point of view. According to a psychology expert from Lancaster University, lying is an important social skill children need to learn as they slowly step into adulthood. This doesn’t mean we should encourage our kids to lie but teach them the difference between pointing something obvious that might hurt somebody’s feelings (such as calling someone fat) and being genuine with people, honest with one’s thoughts and emotions.
If you wish to teach your children not to lie, you need to make sure they know the consequences of their actions and punish the undesirable behavior. But instead of simply punishing them and hope they’ve learned their lesson, do the following:
- Always deconstruct their behavior through dialogue
- Ask hypothetical questions to make them realize their mistake (e.g. “How would you feel if…?ˮ)
- Discuss why your child felt the need to lie (there might be deeper reasons for it, such as fear)
- Discuss what would have happened if they told the truth (make sure to help your child realize it is ok to make mistakes and that it is a better alternative to getting stuck in a web of lies)
- Discuss if anyone’s feelings were hurt in the process and practice compassion while you’re there
The world we live in is filled with inconsistencies which makes it even harder to explain the importance of empathy to your child. Unfortunately, today’s acts of kindness are treated as exceptions, instead of default behaviors that we should all strive towards.
Kids can be incredibly bright as they are observational learners: this is why it is difficult to show them how crucial it is to be good and do well, despite the world proving bad guys do win sometimes (perhaps more often than they should).
Follow these tips, ask for additional support from your surroundings and, most importantly, have faith in your parenting.
About the Author
Zara Lewis (Twitter: @ZaraELewis) is a mom, fitness and yoga enthusiast, and a regular writer for High Style Life.
She is devoted to implementing healthy life habits in every aspect of life of her family and friends. She loves to share her parenting tips and is always open to learning some new skills, because for her parenthood is like going to school forever. She enjoys traveling, hiking, cycling and baking.