Values are moral principles that guide you in making decisions and setting priorities in life. Your character—a set of consistent qualities in your thoughts and behaviors—is a product of your lived values.
Values vary from culture to culture, from family to family, and from person to person. You may have developed your own set of values over your lifetime, or you may live by values defined by your religion or your family. It is up to you, as a parent, to help your child develop a set of principles that give him a personal compass to guide him soundly through life. Defined values provide him with a sense of rightness and well-being that can be the basis for his spiritual development, as well.
Children as young as two years old start to show morally-based behaviors and beliefs. Even before their value systems are fully developed, children’s thoughts and actions are based on the values they experience and see others act out.
Before your child was born, you may have wondered about his eye color and whether or not he would inherit your curly hair. You may also have imagined what kind of person he would be. While physical characteristics are inherited, morals, values, and character cannot be passed down until he is in the world. As with so many other aspects of his emotional development, your baby’s values begin to form through his observations of and interaction with you.
Reflecting on Your Values
As a parent, it is a good idea to reflect on your own values, to know what they are, and to be conscious of which values you would like your child to embrace.
This process begins by asking yourself:
- What matters to me in life?
- What drives me?
- Which aspects of my personality most fundamentally define who I am?
- What are the things that I value most—e.g. family, community, hard work, helping others, honesty, personal responsibility, fun, connection to nature, delicious food, etc?
After considering the previous questions, take the following steps:
- Write down the values that surface in your mind.
- Prioritize the values on the list you just created.
- Make a list of values that you want your child to have.
- Consider whether you currently model the values you prioritized for yourself and the values you would like for your child. Think about ways that you can put these values into action on a daily basis.
When it comes to values and character, actions speak louder than words. Your child learns by closely monitoring your behavior and mirroring what he sees. By living your values, he learns how to live his own. Living within a value system, with integrity in what you do and say, is not necessarily the easiest way to live, but research has shown that values are essential to inner peace and happiness.
To further assist your child in developing good values and a strong character, try the following strategies:
- Help your child establish a secure attachment.
- Nurture his self-esteem.
- Be mindful of your own values and how you model them.
- Discuss values with your child. Clearly explain to him what values are, which values are important to you, and why you think values are important.
- Teach and reinforce empathy, compassion, and cooperation.
- Encourage your child’s efforts and feelings, rather than his achievements.
- Respect your child, and be aware of indirect ways that you influence him.