We live in an interconnected world, a global village where information about everything, including customs, cultures, behaviour and everything in between is at our fingertips. What we see in the news (newspapers, on TV, radio and the Internet) or choose as entertainment — it’s very different from what our parents knew. And our children are growing up in this world and their future will clearly also be different. So how do we make sure they grow up “right”?
One of the great things about raising children is that as they grow into their teens, they’ll question you and the things you say. It’s good because that will force you to think about why you do the things that you do, so that you can tell them “why”.
Fiona Walker, director of schools and principal of Julia Gabriel Centre, Singapore, says, “When your child is very little, give them a clear yes or no and it’s enough. But when they get older, they need an explanation for why you’re saying ‘no’ — that could divert a temper tantrum.
“Even older children, closer to teen age, you need to ask them, involve them in the discussion and help them understand your reasoning. Tweens have tendency to be more rebellious if they feel you’re not listening and not understanding...”
We offer six tips for teaching values to your child:
1. Gratitude becomes empathy
Says Walker: “That’s almost a foundation — to have the value of gratitude within a family. If children feel grateful for what they have, they are able to feel compassion or awareness of those who don’t.” In other words, they will start to understand and empathise with others.
So you need to express how grateful you are for your life, that you are glad to have a bright, interesting child, a supportive, fun spouse, that you are happy you have a house with good neighbours/close family to help, and so on.
This will also help with sibling fights. A mother of two herself, Walker explains: “I think discussing emotions is important, especially for siblings. I seem to spend a lot of time saying how do you feel when he’s bugging you like that; how does he feel when you do that to him?” It will take time and repetition, but it is important to guide your child to recognise that others’ feelings are important — and to show them how to react with kindness.
2. Do spot “teachable moments”
Of course, not everyone can make the leap from “I feel this way, maybe that person feels this way also” on their own. Which would be a good time for you to pick up on little teaching moments. When a toddler (starting early is good!) hits a playmate, for instance, stop his action and say, “it hurts when you hit — don’t” or something similar. Then tell the playmate “I’m sorry…” and insist — without yelling — that your child do so as well. Other good words to model include saying “please” and “thank you” as habits, says Walker.
That’s also why you should not yell, scream or lecture your child about values — do you really want to teach him to yell (back at you)?
Teachable moments can be as simple as you or your child dropping a plate and smashing it — getting mad doesn’t make the plate whole and your reaction (anger, cursing, irritation) could teach him the wrong values — that they are less important to you than a plate? In fact, it would be a better thing to let him finish putting the other plates away — then you could praise him for a job well done. And all of us love to be praised.
Or if it is a valuable old plate, it could be a chance to show him the fun of jigsaws (putting it together again) and showing him that old things can be valued and treasured, too.
3. Tell your child stories
Certainly, when he’s younger, read him books — Aesop’s Fables, although simplistic, are easily read and discussed even with small children. TV is also useful: When he has finished a favourite cartoon, talk to him about choices that a character made — a possible learning point, and also a lesson in chosing the “right” path.
And if you keep talking and listening to him, hopefully, as he grows into pre-teen and then teenager, you will still be able to communicate to him and hear his concerns (and boy, will he have them).
Fiona Walker says, “When dealing with ‘upper tweens’, you’re not really choosing what they read any more, they’re making own choices. The only way to highlight important values is through discussion, telling and sharing stories…”
So it’s a good time to roll out “when I was young…” or “when granny was young” stories, which you can then tailor to a clear conclusion like “so I learned that lying hurts me".
Walker says, “The clearest way to teach older children is by reiterating that it’s so important to be kind, rather than to be right — for instance — or to be honest, and so on. In other words, why you did what you did because of what was important to you. Children won’t pick up strong family values if they don’t have opportunity to share and listen in a family.”
You can also make your pre-teen feel more valued and adult if you explain why you make current decisions such as buying this car or choosing that adult-learning course. Children learn values, and it needs to be evident to them.
4. Start money smarts early
Give him the chance to use a sum of money to pay for recess or lunches, and anything left over can be used for play. As he grows older, include the budget for transportation, too.
Walker enthuses: “Using money to teach them budgeting is a great idea. They’re old enough to think it through, to realise that you’re not always going to be meeting all their needs. If they need X amount for their transport — not just for toys — they learn where money goes. It teaches them responsibility.”
Again, you can help him “model” good money smarts by including him in discussions like “should we buy a car” or “short holiday this year and next year; or long holiday next year to Disneyland?”.
5. Charity begins in the family
This is so easy. Give spare coins to your child to put into the collecting boxes on Flag Days. Go with him to “Clean the Beach/Park” events — it’s outdoor activity, bonding time and values-teaching time in one! And if he decides to start up a collection “to help” whatever causes are current — support them! Kindness and concern for others is something that every religion and society values.
6. Always relate values to real life
Yes, you have to listen to what he is saying about his day. And when he starts going to school, you are going to need to listen out for his stories about his choices.
For instance, you might hear how a child in class isn’t really liked and “everybody runs away” from her. By talking to him, you could actually uncover a problem — perhaps the child is a hitter? — or teach your child an even more important lesson about peer pressure and bullying of the emotional sort (“mean kid” cliques are unfortunately not just in American high-school dramas).
What if your child knows that his friend cheated on a test — does he tell the teacher and betray the friend? Or keep quiet, supporting the friend and lying indirectly to the teacher and “hurting” the rest of the class?