"Values" is not a four-letter word

Check out these tips for raising a moral child.

The very concept of “values” has become a hot button for people on both ends of the political spectrum. Before “family values” became so politically charged, almost everyone openly embraced the notion of teaching values to our children.

Though we all may have different ideas about what constitutes “good values,” as parents we might agree upon certain values that nearly everyone finds important: honesty, responsibility, loyalty, compassion and a strong work ethic.

With schools focused on preparing students academically, for the most part it is the responsibility of parents to impart basic values to our children. Children learn the basics of good behavior by imitating those who are closest to them. Still, parents may consider teaching values a daunting task and wonder where to begin. The following tips will help you establish and enforce good moral habits.

Building a moral foundation

Read. Reading and story time are probably the best place to consciously begin imparting values to your children. Many classic children’s books are built around value lessons. Browse through your personal library to see if any of the stories address good manners, kindness to others, respectful treatment of animals, strong work ethics or responsibility. As you read to your child, discuss the moral of the story and reinforce the principle in a simple, straightforward manner:

  • Why didn’t the puppy get his dinner? Because he dawdled and was late, so the other puppies ate it up!
  • Being on time is part of being responsible. Have you ever missed out on something because you were late?
  • How can you take steps to be on time in the future?

Talk. Talk with your children every day about their daily activities. Not only will this strengthen your communication, but it will also give you opportunities to discuss values:

  • Everyone made fun of Sarah because she struck out in softball. How would you feel if you were Sarah?
  • Have you ever been teased before? How did it make you feel?
  • How can you be more compassionate toward your friends?

Play. A family game of “What Would You Do?” is a great way to spark a values discussion. To play the game, write a series of simple moral dilemmas on index cards. For example:

  • Walking down the street, you see someone drop a $5 bill. What would you do?
  • While taking a test, your best friend asks to copy your answers. What would you do?

This kind of game engages the whole family and gives everyone an opportunity to explore options for positive social behavior.