Laying the foundations of values early in childhood will not only equip children to grow up into well-balanced adults, but will also brush off onto other people in their lives. As crime increases, one cannot help to wonder if it is not partially as a result of parents not teaching their children the true meaning of values and principles in life. Children are not born with an intrinsic value system, but rely exclusively on their parents to teach them life’s ethics and values.
Pierre Celliers, a clinical psychologist from Bloemfontein, explains that it is of utmost importance that parents take value teaching serious from a very young age. “Children learn ethics and values through their parents and this process (called introjection) forms the foundation of the psyche of a child. If parents wait until they think their child is old enough, they are in for a bumpy ride and will experience great difficulty establishing a healthy value system later in their kids’ lives. Where ethics and values were not established early in life, a child will probably display anti-social behaviour and personality disorders, becoming the disruptive element in society,” Pierre says.
He suggests parents should be careful of the way they teach ethics and values to children. “Parents should not be too preachy or instructional, but rather give a child emotional insight instead of lengthy lectures about the pros and cons of ethic behaviour. The authority of parents also plays a decisive role with the establishment of moral and ethic principles. Parents’ authority should be continuously fair and not militaristic, but rather be presented with confidence and conviction. This will teach a child to have respect for authority and set the platform to respect authority as an adult,” says Pierre.
The values we should teach our kids
Compassion is to learn how to feel for and with and show concern for the wellbeing of other people. It is a very powerful emotion that can easily mean the difference between a child who displays cruel behaviour towards others and a child who is sympathetic to other’s needs and feelings. It is very important that you teach your little one compassion by leading by example. Listen to your child’s needs and teach her to always listen to other’s needs as well. Explain to her that people have different needs and from time to time everybody’s needs change. A good idea is to talk about your own needs and feelings, the needs of friends and family and even those of strange people. Ask your little one what she thinks someone’s needs or feelings might be. Once children can see things from the point of view of others and learn that their feelings resemble those of their own, compassion develops. For example, if your child sees someone crying or who is sad, you can refer to a time when she was feeling sad herself, thus reminding her how she felt and that we all sometimes share the same emotions. By understanding this, she will think twice before being rude or thoughtless in her actions towards others.
The first step in teaching respect is to treat your child with respect. Ironically, adults try to teach children respect by criticising, shaming, lecturing and threatening. There’s a story of a woman walking down the street and accidentally bumping into a stranger. She smiled and apologised to her. Later the same evening while preparing dinner, she turned around in the kitchen and bumped into her little boy. Her words were: “Just get out of my way!” (She didn’t acknowledge his dignity as she did with the stranger.) When kids live with disrespect, they will disrespect. Would you say, “What’s the magic word?” to your best friend or colleague? No, we don’t, but constantly say that to our kids. Rather use the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ as often as possible yourself. When you are in public, treat other people with kindness and don’t be rude. Remember that kids imitate us all the time. If you are constantly yelling at everyone, you are teaching disrespect to your child. If your little one behaves in a manner you do not approve of, take her aside and tell her to correct the way she handles herself. How we treat our children is how they will treat the world.
Self-respect is very much related to being a happy and successful person in life. The way you help your child to develop her talents will have a direct effect on her future, therefore parents need to provide their child’s basic needs in developing self-esteem by showing their unconditional love. Kids should know that no matter what they do, they are accepted for who they are. Listen to your child and take at heart what she says to you. Instead of ridiculing her fears and feelings, try to take her serious and help her conquer his issues. It is said that when children do bad things they need attention, and when they do good things they need appreciation. Always show your child appreciation by visibly loving her. Hugging and caressing help kids develop self-respect. Also, frequently tell her how special she is and that you love her dearly.
Honesty does not only consist of being honest to people around you, but ultimately being true to oneself. Your kids should feel free to speak their minds and not be frightened by what they think your reaction is going to be. Be patient and understanding with your child, because the more a child fears her parents, the more lies she will tell. Avoid situations and confrontations in which telling lies are made easy for your little one. If you know she did something wrong, don’t ask her if she did it, but rather confront her with the facts. Lying and dishonesty normally sprouts from fear and a need to protect yourself. Teaching honesty causes you to be honest yourself. When you lie to your kids, (even a small white lie) they will think it is okay to do the same.
Teaching your kids responsibility can start with small tasks. Give your child age-appropriated tasks to do. An important aspect of teaching responsibility is to do chores with them until they understand how you want the chores done. Make this time fun and add to their responsibilities as they get older. Make sure to praise your children for tasks done successfully as this will motivate them to do more. Your kids should learn that every family member has responsibilities in the household and that you need to work together as a family. Avoid giving your child money for housework, otherwise she will expect to be paid for everything she does. Another lesson is to let your child take responsibility for her own mistakes. Don’t rush in and cover her mistakes as this is usually counterproductive and she will never learn to take responsibility for her actions. It is also important to teach your child not to put the blame on others for difficulties. When she makes a mistake, help her accept responsibility for it and praise her for doing so.
Teaching little children self-discipline can sometimes feel like a daunting task. It involves persistence and long-term commitments, but if you and your child practice on a regular basis, it can be achieved. For a two-year-old it may be impossible to control her temper tantrums, but as they grow older you can teach your kids to deal effectively with their emotions and develop patience instead of having anger outbursts. Encourage your child rather to talk to you about what is frustrating her than to throw tantrums.
Even little children have to make some decisions in life. Teach your child good judgment by explaining to her that she must always think before she makes a decision and of the consequences before acting. Make up situations that closely resemble circumstances she faces, and then ask her how she would react and why. The secret is not to tell your child what to do, but rather to offer your guidance with decision making. Parents can help by making it clear that it is important in certain situations to think honestly and carefully about what their children should do and also keeping in mind how other people will be affected by the decisions and acts.
If you talk to your kids about integrity and do not practice it, it will undermine their sense of integrity. For example, if you tell your child not to shout then you should try your best to follow your own mandate of not shouting. Keeping promises is also a part of integrity. Your little one will always remember if you make a promise and not keep to it. If integrity is priority to your child, she becomes more responsible and accountable for her actions. Provide your children with guidelines and parameters on how they should relate with people around them. The actions of your children reflect back to you.
Acceptance of diversity
Always make it clear that prejudice is wrong and that all of us are equals, regardless of gender, race, religion, culture or background. Instill an appreciation for diversity by encouraging your child to participate in activities that promote cross-culture programmes. To feel uncomfortable with people who are different from us is normal, but by exposing your child to diversity and talking about differences will help her accept others as they are.
Teach your child it is never okay to make fun of people or laugh at someone’s disability or differences as we are all unique human beings, with our own special qualities. As parents we have a huge responsibility to mold the future of our kids and also those of their offspring. A child’s life begins and ends at home each day and what she becomes depends on us as parents. We should do the best we can to send well-balanced kids into this world. Joseph Clinton Pearce, a well-known author on parenting, said: “We must become the people we want our children to be”.