Whap, whap, whap. The doggy alarm clock has gone off. And here comes the nose, and then the snarfing. Mr. Sherlock, our Covid rescue dachshund, is awake. He also wants me to be awake too, because he is hungry. Mr. Sherlock was found wandering the streets of San Antonio, and a dachshund rescue group brought him to safety. We adopted him, and he made the Covid lockdown ever so much more fun. He is a lovely dog!
Why am I telling you this?
Because a client yesterday asked what values should she be teaching to her first grader. Great question! We talked about what she learned was important from her parents, what her spouse learned, and what they might change. It started me thinking, how do we learn our value system growing up? When I was in grad school, we called this Values Clarification. It was an important therapeutic goal, and still is vital to effective families.
So, what do you think is important in life? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Why do some kids miss this education of values? The delivery system is the family, and the parents can either teach values unconsciously, or plan to teach values systematically. Our values tell the world who we are.
So. Who Are you as a Family?
Like a yellow brick road, the values we teach our kids will guide them thru life. The values that we often quietly follow, often without too much thought, we learned as we grew up.
These values will define you as a family. Often, after the excitement and physical marathon of babies and toddlers are slowing down, we can catch our breath and define what these values are. And if we disagreed with our own parents, we can also change the values, as adults.
It is fun to look back at your childhood, and see what messages you received growing up.
Some were method messages:
- We wash our hands before we eat.
- We brush our teeth at bedtime.
- We treat our pet gently, never hurtfully.
- We contribute back to the family thru chores.
These reflect the underlying values. We wash our hands because health is important. We value health, so we also brush our teeth, eat healthy foods, exercise, etc.
When I was growing up, my parents valued community service. It was a big deal. At holidays, much of our excitement was how we could help with Blue Santa. But year round, my brothers and I were expected to help others. I volunteered as a hospital candy stripper, a symphony guide, a Big Sister, in our church Sunday school, etc. It was just the way we did things, and so we did.
I carried this forward as an adult. In my adult family, we value helping others. When my kids were teens, they volunteered at the animal shelter on Saturday mornings. They would walk dogs, pet cats, play with gerbils, etc. The shelter did a fine job of keeping these animals fed and warm. But time to play and pet was so limited without volunteers. I wanted my kids to know they could make a difference in the world, so we volunteered. I can’t tell you how many dogs and cats we adopted thru their childhood! And now we have Mr. Sherlock, who reminds us with his nose snarfs daily just how much pleasure we get in return.
Some days, just getting kids fed and bathed and off to bed can seem overwhelming and exhausting. Adding one more thing to the day’s events can be daunting. But, as the holidays approach, give yourself the gift of defining some of your values as parents.
Your kids are watching and imitating, because they think you KNOW how this thing called life works. If you have older kids, they can join into the values discussion with topics such as:
- Why is school important?
- Would you cheat on a test just to get a good grade?
- Can people depend on you to do the right thing?
- What is the right thing to do when your friend is getting teased at school?
- How will you exercise your body? Nobody can do this for you.
My dad always started the dinner time with a question. And he wasn’t kidding about it either. “What did you do today for the good of the country?” He expected an answer, and all eyes were on you until you answered. I have written another blog about this so I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say if I hadn’t saved the world by 5:00, I knew to get busy doing something helpful before dinner!
You get the idea.
As Shakespeare once told us, “All the world’s a stage. And all the many people merely players.” With all of the pressures of social media, it would be so easy to live life as if on a stage. But as the news tells us daily, being fake is not growing kids with confidence and a strong selfhood.
Instead, with our values clarified, we teach kids to do the right thing. They will benefit from it daily by their feelings of happiness and pride.
Children Learn What They Live
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to be shy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn to be patient.
If children live with praise, they learn to appreciate.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and others.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
©1972 Dorothy Law Nolte, All Rights Reserved This is the author-approved short version
I so wish I had written this poem! But we can all benefit from the message. Help kids develop a strong sense of self. The world needs them, and their ideas, and their help. And don’t just do it for show.
Live life as if no one is watching.
We hope you are well, and look forward to seeing you soon.
Jennie and Claire