You are your child's first and best teacher, and when it comes to imparting strong, positive values, you have a golden opportunity to lead by example. Katherine Granich explains.
All parents want their children to grow up with a highly developed moral compass. That is, we hope to raise children who exhibit characteristics like honesty, respect for others, compassion, and a desire to help those less fortunate. But how do we impart these values to our offspring, when we ourselves are so busy with the rigorous demands of modern life? Here are 10 simple ways to bring positive values into your family's life, right from when your children are small.
Make a list of your family's values. Have you ever watched Supernanny? One of her strategies for helping families to stay on the right path is to make a poster outlining the house rules, and post it in a prominent place, like the kitchen. But instead of posting a list of the house rules, why not post a list of "family values"? Write down 10 things that you expect from members of your family - both inside the house and out in the "real world". These could be things as simple as "Think before you speak, because words can hurt."
Get to know your neighbours. It's true that charity begins at home, and a great - and convenient - place to begin teaching your child about kindness to others is to make an effort to get to know your neighbours. Take over a plate of cookies and introduce yourself and your child, and say that you've been thinking that it's important for neighbours to look out for one another. If you have elderly neighbours, make a special effort to check on them once a week, even if it's just making sure you wave as you see them on your way to the letterbox.
Give the gift of time. Volunteering does take up valuable free time, we know - but the benefits your children will reap will help to develop their compassion for others. Places like Women's Refuge, the SPCA, and nonprofit organisations are always in need of unpaid assistance, whether it's serving meals, helping to pick up and drop off donations, or even stuffing envelopes and delivering flyers.
Donate. If you truly can't find the time to volunteer, then consider donating to a charity - not necessarily everyone who calls, but one worthy organization that you feel drawn to. Sponsor a needy child, save clothing and toys that are in good condition to give to your local charity, or give money to charity in honour of people for whom you would otherwise be buying something.
Tell your own story. Children love hearing about their parents' childhoods - it is so hard for them to imagine you at their age, but it is fascinating. Surely you experienced some moral dilemmas in your childhood? These are great learning opportunities and an excellent way to bond with each other. Bedtime is the perfect place to tell stories like this, as your little one will fall asleep with the story in their head, and process it while they sleep.
Talk about values. This might seem a bit ridiculous when your child is just an infant, but it's never too early to instill appropriate and positive values in them just through speech.
Walk the talk. Live your life according to your values - this is not the time for "Do as I say, not as I do." Children learn by imitation and for them, it's pretty clear when you are doing something different to what you're saying. Think about friends - yours and theirs. Think about the company you keep, and the people your children are exposed to every day - other parents, coaches, playgroup leaders, teachers, caregivers, relatives. Get to know their values and beliefs, and ensure that what they are telling and showing your children is appropriate.
Teach them the value of money. Money doesn't grow on trees - especially in this economy. It's all too easy to bribe our children with lollies and gifts to keep them quiet or quell a tantrum in the supermarket by giving in to their demand for biscuits. But all that does is to tell our children that money is disposable and "easy come, easy go". Be conscious of how they see you spending money.
Invite others to join you. Include your child's playmates (and parents!) in your efforts in friendly ways - invite them to come along to help you do volunteer work, or talk to your neighbours about planting a community garden. Ask your child's daycare or preschool about arranging a visit to the local SPCA to find out about the work that they do on behalf of the animals. Contact a nursing home and find out if any of the elderly patients would enjoy visits from youngsters for an hour on the weekend.
Katherine Granich is the former editor of OHbaby! Magazine.
References and further reading
* Children Learn What They Live, by Dorothy Law Nolte and Rachel Harris. Lane Cove, NSW, Australia: Finch, 2008
* Parenting for Character: Equipping Your Child for Life, by Andrew Mullins. Sydney: Finch, 2005
* Teach Yourself: Bringing Up Happy Children, by Glenda Weil and Doro Marden. London: Hodder, 2008
* Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, by Seth Godin. London: Piatkus, 2008