Are the hours in your day filled with work, TV, shopping, and home maintenance? Because these activities require so much time and energy, they can lead kids to see them as "what our family values most."
Make sure that how you spend your time is balanced with what you hold dear. If it's important to you that your children read, they should see you with reading material in your hands more often than the remote control. If you want your kids to be physically fit, get out and get moving yourself -- and invite them to come along. If organized religion is important to you, attend worship services regularly and insist that they do too. If you place a high value on education, be a lifelong learner yourself. Do you want your kids to respect the environment? Be a faithful recycler. Law-abiding citizens? Obey the speed limit. And don't be afraid to set rules that reflect your values: "In this family we eat dinner together."
Kids take cues from how you spend your money as well. After the basics, where does your money go? The way you spend your dollars should reflect your values. Each purchase sends a message.
Every parent stresses some character traits more than others. One parent might teach kindness above bravery, another independence over politeness. It's tricky. We want our children to be assertive but not aggressive. We emphasize politeness but don't want our kids to be used as doormats.
When you see a child display a trait you admire, point it out. "Jason (the neighbor boy) found a ten-dollar bill on our driveway and promptly brought it to me. That shows integrity." If you walk into your kitchen and find your older son placing a bandage on his brother's bloody knee, seize this opportunity to define compassion. "How compassionate -- you're helping your brother who's hurt."
Don't hesitate to underline your own virtuous actions with words: "I'm taking Mrs. Cunningham a casserole because she had surgery last week. This is a kind thing I'm doing for her."
And when you see your children display vices, take the same approach but in the negative. "I saw you take a dollar from your sister's purse. We don't steal. Put the money back."
To help reinforce your values, create positive habits with preschool children, then engage their intellect with information during the elementary years. Don't be shocked when your teenager rebels against your values. It's natural, and usually only temporary.
Keep your parenting antenna alert for stories in the newspaper, on TV, and in your everyday life that illustrate the virtues you admire or the vices you abhor. Don't go overboard lecturing. Your approach should be low-key yet intentional, insistent but subtle. It's a difficult balance. It takes practice, but you can do it. Without values to guide them, children flounder; they're left to soak up the values of pop culture. If you spend your valuable time and energy instilling values in your children, they'll know that they are valued too.
Continued on page 2: Classroom Programs