Teaching our children core values has never been tougher. With pop culture’s mixed messages and poor examples from many of today’s musical and media heroes, it’s difficult to find good role models.
Medford, NJ’s Carole Gold, author, inspirational speaker, and mother, offers a top ten list of the most important values that all parents must teach their children, including honesty, self-reliance, personal responsibility, fearlessness, forgiveness, compassion, trust, humility, perseverance, and authenticity.
“Honesty is the most important,” says Gold. “It is not a new concept, but we are nothing more than our word. Honesty and integrity have to be the basis for all of our relationships.”
Teach Through Example
“It’s not about what you say, it’s about what you do, how you live, and the examples you show,” suggests Gwen McConnell, who lives with her husband, John, in St. David’s, PA. One of the McConnell’s core values is charity, a lesson that all four of their children, ages 21 to 29, have taken to heart. Twelve years ago, as a senior in high school, their oldest son rode his bike with a friend 75 miles to their shore house in Avalon. Since that time, he has continued that ride, growing it into a fundraiser that recently earned $20,000 for a local school.
Gold stresses that children watch everything their parents do, and hear everything they say. “Regardless of what we say, children give much more weight to what we do,” she explains. “Values must be something that you live, not just something that you speak.”
Another important value the McConnells have instilled in their children is the importance of family. Though John travelled extensively for work, he made sure to be home for as many of his kids’ important moments as possible. “He would make these super human efforts to get back, and if he couldn’t, he would make it a priority to talk to them on the phone,” recalls Gwen. Though family members live in different states, they continue to make time together a priority.
Find Worthy Role Models
In spite of headlines showing many famous people’s bad behaviors, there are people, both throughout history and in today’s world to emulate. That person may even be part of your own family.
“John’s dad was someone who my kids knew well, and in spite of being brilliant and very successful, he was the most humble and understated person who did all kinds of volunteer work and was one of the best examples for my kids,” says Gwen.
Adds Leslie Slate, a mother of four children between the ages of 12 and 22 who reside in Wilmington, DE, “We focus more on everyday people and how we all can be heroes.”
No one is perfect, and your children will likely make mistakes, crossing the boundaries you set. You must have an open line of communication with your children to understand why they behaved the way they did. Next, there must be a consequence for the action, and it is best to tie the consequence to the behavior whenever possible.
That’s exactly what Slate did when one of her four children came home with a D on her interim report card. After a heart-to-heart conversation, her daughter explained that she hadn’t completed a project because she found the subject boring. Together, they came up with an appropriate punishment.
“I reminded her that she didn’t hurt anybody but herself and it was really disrespectful to the teacher,” says Slate, who had placed respect as a core value. “She ended up writing a letter of apology to the teacher.” The child regretted her actions, and worked extremely hard to bring her grade back up to a B.
When your child makes a mistake, Gold urges parents to say to your child, “I love you and I find the behavior unacceptable. Then show them that their behavior is a choice they made and they can choose better.”