Teaching Our Values?

Our values, the ones that we intentionally attempt to teach our children, may well be learned in ways we don’t notice. I'm not thinking so much of of things like "be nice," "be good", "clean up", etc., but what are we saying and doing about what we (automatically and generally) tend to focus on. You know ... what I like or don't like, what I want or don't want ... and how we use these to get others to do what we want or to agree with us.

How often do our children overhear these comments about what we like and don’t like, and what we agree with and don’t agree with, as reasons for our actions and requests?   An alien observer (as like a young child!) might well think that the essential life goal of us human beings is to get what we like, to get what we want, or to get our way.  A problem arises, however, when we parents complain to them about their attempts to get what they want or like: more attention, more sweets, get out of bed, etc. And they certainly have learned, if not mastered, how to get the attention of the powers that be (which is us) - the first step in all communication. This is an essential skill for living a successful life!

A solution? Think about how you want people around you to ask you for help when they cannot get or do something themselves. Then:

Talk about why you want what you want: “it works” for you to (e.g., get enough sleep, eat food that is good for you body to use to grow and have energy, let me read my book for a while, …) , then say, “my job as your mom/dad is to take good care of you and all of us in our family, and be sure we are safe and healthy - you can count on me (and dad/mom) to do that.”  Let that sink in, add any specific useful information that is related to what is safe and healthy. Then make a respectful request: “Would you be willing you (stay in bed now, stop asking/whining/crying for more candy, play/draw/read/build something) while I (fix dinner, clean up, read, write a letter, draw a picture, call grandma)?  That would help me take care of us.” Context is everything here. Use a warm and straightforward voice - as if you are talking to a fully grown and able adult! (Why get your child used to being talked to “like a child”?)  You can add at any time, “You can help me take care of you any time, and this means doing “what works” to keep yourself safe and healthy. And then we’ll have more time to do a lot of other things together as you get bigger!”

Finally, whenever there is an opportunity, be sure to talk about how different your “tastes” and your interests are from others, what you do to take care of yourself, and what a wonderfully diverse world we have the opportunity to live within (even if your child does not yet understand the words).  This helps keep the doors of communication between you and your children wide open. Amazing things happen when communication is safe and open.

(a modified repost from 2015)