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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tutorial Tuesday: Teaching Children Values

Tutorial Tuesday - 5 Ways To Teach Your Children Values Every Day 
by Rivka Kawano of 

 “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”
 -Martin Luther King Jr. 

Whether you are a teacher or a parent, one thing is certain - the most important thing we can pass on to our children is values. All the rest of the letters and numbers and skills will be meaningless without that foundation. Sadly though, most students don’t get formal training in morals and ethics until college, if they get it at all.

If we realize it or not, we are teaching values like kindness, generosity, diversity, responsibility, and more all day every day. The real question is, what exactly are we teaching?

1) Know What you Value

The first step to passing on our values to the children in our lives is to know what our own values are. That might sounds obvious, but how often do we truly take time to reflect on what is most important? With all the demands of children (meals, naps, changes of clothes, teaching, entertainment, etc., etc.) when do we have time?!

We need to make time. The future of the world depends on the next generation being able to live a life informed by intentional decision making that supports and grows themselves and others. Even if you just spend five minutes, write down a list that starts with “In this classroom we value...” or “In this home we value...” You don’t have to post it anywhere. You don’t even have to share it. Yet, it will begin to color everything you do. Educate your interactions with the other people around you, and give meaning and purpose to even mundane things.

2) Set An Example 

I am an absolute believer that parenting (and teaching) is 90% modeling. What we do matters far more than what we say, even when we think they aren’t watching.

How can we expect them to be respectful of one another, when they hear us gossiping about another teacher down the hall. Or how can they believe in themselves when all we greet them with in the morning is an eye roll?

Try this exercise - for one day every time you do or say anything consciously ask the question “what value am I communicating when I choose this action?” It is truly shocking.

3) Teach Your Children to Observe 

In today’s culture we are inundated with messages all day long. Television, billboard ads, social media, a constant stream of messages.

One of the things that I have seen make the most immediate and measurable results with my children is to teach them from the time they are born to observe and analyze what is around them from a ethical standpoint.

Let me give an example. One thing that I value is courtesy (know what you value). So if we are at the store and someone else opens the door for us, of course I say thank you (set an example), but then I also make sure to tell my children “That person was being a real gentleman/lady, it was so kind for them to open the door for us wasn’t it?”

When you are watching cartoons with your child, do you point out bad and good behaviour? As they get older, you can talk about the subtle message behind ads (this product will make you pretty, or being cool is the most important thing) and whether or not those messages are in line with your values. There are teachable moments all around us all the time, we just have to notice them and help our children notice them too.

4) Catch Your Children Being Good 

It is the middle of the afternoon, the kids are being particularly well behaved, so I figure this is my chance to do the dishes, get on the phone, or check my e-mail. Which of course means within two minutes, they are no longer being good. Sound familiar?

You see, kids figure out pretty quick that they don’t get attention for being quiet, playing nice, or doing what they are asked without complaining. We are usually so relieved and see this as an opportunity to move on to the next thing. But we are also missing a wonderful opportunity to teach children values. At least once or twice per day, interrupt what your child is doing to tell them they are doing everything right! Not only that, but to point out what value they are displaying. “I really appreciate you being so kind to your sister” or “You did a wonderful job of respecting me by listening right away!” When we reinforce what we want them to do and not just want we don’t want them to do, we help them get better and better at making good choices.

5) Fill Your Life With Things That Reinforce Your Values 

Remember that stream of stuff we talked about earlier that surrounds us all the time? Have you ever taken the time to really think about the values based messages those things are sending and if they are the right ones?

One of the reasons that I started writing reviews and creating Beautiful Books for Children was to open a dialog about the deeper meaning of books. Sometimes without even realizing it we are reading books, watching movies, and in other ways sending messages we really don’t want - like exclusion and prejudice are okay, disrespect to others is funny, or white lies are not really lies at all.

Look at each thing in your home or classroom, and ask yourself about what the message is behind this book. Sometimes things are hard to spot - like you may notice that all the books you have show only one ethnic or racial group in the illustrations. But once you start examining things based on these criteria you have a new set of tools to reinforce the messages you want to send your kids.

A couple of important final thoughts. Stories do not have to be pithy, heavy-handed, or moralizing to teach good values. A wonderful story will have values woven almost seamlessly throughout, and you as the adult can help draw those out and focus in on them. Also important (especially for public school teachers) values do not have to be based on a particular religious practice (though they can certainly walk hand in hand if that is part of your family identity). Many things virtually everyone everywhere have agreed are good, worthwhile, and important to pass on. Those values are the most powerful, and truly make the world a better place when we all learn to make them a part of our every day.

Rivka Kawano is mother to three boys ages 2, 3, and 4, as well as editor and book reviewer for , a resource to help parents and teachers find great books and have ideas of what to do next after you read them. Please take a minute to comment about what you do to teach values to children every day too!