Every interaction with children provides an opportunity to teach values. While no parent tries to make every kiss goodnight a lesson, it's useful to think about the opportune times for teaching in families:
1. Children learn about our values through daily interactions with us. When we think about teaching values to kids, we often think about taking them to church, teaching them about sharing or encouraging them to give during the holiday season. Yet we teach values every day in our ordinary daily encounters.
2. Children learn through our example. As one dad, Cully, explains: "My son has seen me pick up trash off the street and he's asked, 'Who dropped that?' I answered, 'I don't know. But it was on my earth. So I picked it up."
3. Children learn through the values we strive toward. All of us have some values that are woven into the very fabric of who we are. At the same time, most of us have values we're newly adopting, that we haven't practiced or integrated. While it's true that children learn through what we model, it's not true that you need to have mastered a value before you teach it to your children. Even if we move toward our values in tiny increments, children will pick up on our intention and commitment, and learn that they, too, can strive toward a vision they haven't yet attained.
4. Children learn values through the way we do things as a family. Kathleen shares how she teaches the value of family: "Once a week we have an evening where we sit around as a family and talk about the things we like about our family. We plan games, songs and crafts. It's a time when no one has other appointments. I love that time. It tells us that our family is a priority."
5. Children learn values and beliefs through their exposure to the larger world. Through friends, extended family, books, TV and the experiences they have in their community, children absorb values and societal norms.
6. Children learn values through our explanations of the world. We can't always control our child's environment. We may have chosen the grocery store, but we don't control all the people who are going to be in the grocery store. Our children sometimes witness or hear things we wish they hadn't seen or heard. But the fact that we are with them or that they can come home and tell us about it, gives us a chance to share our perspective on what happened.
Excerpted from "Becoming the Parent You Want to Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years" by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser (Publisher: Broadway Books; $20.00; Paperback; ISBN: 0553067508).
Copyright © 1997 by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.