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Morals and Values: Tips For Teaching Children
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, December 2009

In our hectic, 24/7 lives, children face many choices. Providing them tools to build a set of values is one of the most important things an adult can do. Opportunities to talk about values and morals are everywhere. They are not just learned at school or from a textbook; young people must see them in action. Parents are their primary teachers.

Values and morals are often intertwined, and they are also internal, making it difficult for children to "see" these beliefs and attitudes and qualities at work. Children learn from your behavior as well as discussions related to the choices you make.

Here are some tips to consider:

Shift the Focus - Instead of telling your children, "the most important thing is that you are happy," think about this: "the most important thing is that you are kind, and that you are responsible for others."

Help Children Appreciate Others - Don't let them treat a store clerk, waitress, or babysitter as if that person is invisible. Expect children to help around the house, and to be helpful to others. If your child wants to quit a sports team or chorus, make sure they think carefully about what it means for the group.

Establish Your Relationship As The Primary Model - Expect your children to appreciate your relationship with each other. This means not allowing your children to treat you as a doormat. Expect them to express some interest about your life and to thank you for your generosity.

Listen Carefully - Help your child register kindness and unkindness, justice and injustice in the world. Listen to your child's moral questions and dilemmas, and encourage discussion attempting to see their point of view. When the time is right, express your own values, finding a way to connect them to your child's experiences. There is a lesson in everything. Just be careful about lecturing, sounding pedantic or condescending.

Teaching children values and morals starts with an understanding of our own values and morals. Once we are clear on these, we can always note the lessons embedded in most interactions. We can also set some time aside each week or month to discuss them with our children, and provide them the tools to navigate their lives.

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