Every parent has a picture in their mind of how they want their child to turn out. Most parents want their child to be honest, responsible, polite, loving, hard working, and happy. Other values and virtues that parents try to establish in their children may include a love of sports, an appreciation for art or music, a love of the outdoors, faith in God, and community service. The list can go on and on. These various values fit into three broad categories; 1) Attitudes towards others, such as being polite, 2) Character traits, such as honesty, and 3) Lifestyle choices, such as a love of the outdoors. We often hope our children can attain these lofty values better than we do. There are several ways parents can instill these values, and “do as I say, not as I do” isn’t one of them.
One of the most common techniques for instilling values is “Verbal Teaching.” This includes talking about the value, sharing your own personal experience, using other people as models, and guiding the child’s thinking. For instance, if you are trying to instill patience in your child you might talk about what patience means. You might also tell him how you learned patience or how someone else demonstrates that quality. In guiding the child’s thinking, you might want to ask questions about how he or she could practice patience in certain situations.
Another set of techniques can be called “Behavioral Strategies.” This includes modeling and shared activities with the child. Children’s minds are like camcorders, they see and record everything and play it back for you later. Parents can model politeness by being pleasant in stores and on the phone. Certain values, such as community service or citizenship, are most easily taught by doing an activity with your child such as volunteering together on a service project.
A third set of strategies is labeled “Encouraging Specific Behaviors.” This includes encouraging positive behaviors, discipline, and direct instruction. Parents can easily encourage positive behaviors by “catching your child being good.” Anytime you notice your child doing something you want them to value, praise them for it. Discipline includes establishing a system of responsibilities tied to certain privileges, such as chores and allowance. This can instill values such as responsibility and money management. Direct instruction is simply teaching your child to live according to a certain value, such as teaching your daughter how to balance a checkbook.
Lastly, but of great importance, is the technique of “Structuring the Child’s Environment.” This includes exposing your child to desired settings, limiting exposure to undesirable settings, and family rituals. For example, if you want your child to have an appreciation for art, take them to museums and provide them with art lessons. If you do not want your child to be violent and use crude language, limit their television exposure only to certain children’s programs. An example of a family ritual would be dinner around the table with the whole family and no T.V. This allows children to value family time and conversation.
Every parent wants the best for their child. This is done through the hard work of passing on values to our children. The strategies listed above have been found very useful for instilling positive values. Consistency is the key. And remember, the best way to improve your child’s behavior is by improving your own behavior.