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Teaching Values

Help your kids learn the most important lessons of all.

Here are two good ways to convey to your children the importance of values such as compassion, respect for others, and honesty. One method is obvious; the other may surprise you.

On-the-Spot Lessons

Retelling the good deeds of your family's heroes helps teach values.

Nearly every day something happens that offers you a chance to teach your kids about values. For example, let's say that your 4-year-old son just "borrowed" a pack of gum from the grocery store, and you caught him. It's your big chance to make a lasting impression on him about what's right and wrong. To do so, try to keep the following points in mind:

  • Hold your child accountable for his actions. Resist the temptation to make excuses for your child. What's more, try to make the consequence fit the "crime." In the example above, you can convey your message by having your son return the gum to the store manager.
  • Deliver your message of morality in a calm manner so that your child understands it and remembers it.
  • Keep reprimands short and to the point. The lesson you should have learned as a child is that lectures are a waste of everyone's time and energy.
  • Don't underestimate the power of the phrase, "I'm very disappointed in you." Just saying these words can be punishment enough to your child.
  • Remember that discipline never hits the mark unless it takes place in a loving atmosphere. The most effective discipline includes neither brutality nor bribe; it's simply the example you set for your kids.

Telling Family Tales

On-the-spot training works well when the misdeed has already happened. To take a more proactive approach to teaching values, try this surprising tool: family stories.

Family tales work because they appeal to the imagination, which is a child's most potent means of relating to the world. As a result, the lessons of these tales become deeply embedded in your child's mind.

The first step toward constructing a family mythology is to identify your family's tales. Who were your family's heroes and what were their deeds?

Once you gather these tales, they may need some editing before you can retell them to your children. Keep in mind that the purpose of these stories is to strengthen the moral and ethical tradition of a family.

If your family's history is lost or vague, then be creative. Develop stories around experiences from your life or the lives of people you've known. Draw upon real-life events that taught you a valuable lesson. Try to avoid preachy or melodramatic stories, such as, "When I was your age, I used to walk to school through 10 miles of knee-deep snow." Finally, try to bring all the passion and humor you can muster to the telling. Your kids will treasure these yarns forever.

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