Want your child to grow up with good values? Here’s where to start:
In our fast-paced 21st-century existence, everyone’s attention span is getting ever-shorter. As parents, unless you constantly remove distractions from your kiddos’ lives (television, electronics, etc.), you’ll be competing for their attention at every turn. Starting as soon as they begin to play on your smartphone at the store or in church.
Which means, without a lot of conscious effort on your part, these and other outside influences will be what teach your child values.
Just sit with that for a moment.
And remember that unless you’re monitoring their every moment of screentime (which I’m guessing you’re not, not as closely as you perhaps might like or should), you have no idea what messages they’re receiving.
Advertising is everywhere, folks – and it’s not always obvious. Essie tried to convince me for her last birthday that she needed an elaborate fondant-decorated cake for her birthday, because she’d been watching YouTube Kids videos along these lines. On her school-issued iPad, after her homework was done.
And if your kids are anywhere near stores, TV, or other sources of marketing anytime from September to December, you’ve no doubt heard repeated desperate pleas for the latest hot toys for those three months out of every year.
Which maybe doesn’t bother you. But it bothers us – both the commercialism of it all, and all of the other underlying values that children absorb at the same time in such a commercialized environment. Like your worth as a human being equaling what you own, or what you wear. Or how much money your family has (or doesn’t have) to buy you all these things.
It’s no wonder that there’s a growing collection of parenting books on how to raise your kids so they DON’T grow up feeling entitled to whatever they want.
If this isn’t what you want as a parent, you need to have a conscious plan of your own.
A plan for teaching values to your child?
Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. If you want your child to become a good, moral person (however you define that), it helps to start with an actual plan for teaching your child values that you want them to embody.
Every so often, I realize I’ve made a major parenting goof. And it catches me totally off guard every time, partly because I’m a pretty plan-ahead kind of person. But yesterday, it was wondering if Dear Husband and I had fallen short on making a plan for teaching values to our girls.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Businesses, schools, community organizations, and other nonprofits all have mission statements that spell out what they’re about and what their goals are. Often, they’ve boiled these down into one or two short sentences or phrases – or even a few words!
This motto or tagline then appears everywhere. It’s hard to miss. Everyone who passes through the front door of that business or organization, or visits its website, knows exactly what it stands for and what it’s all about.
Just like everyone who visits the Super Mom Hacks homepage knows that this blog is about tips, tricks, and hacks to help busy parents save time, money, and their sanity. It’s right there in the logo.
For example, when seven-year-old Essie got off the bus yesterday, I asked her to recite her school’s “three R’s.”
No, they’re not “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.” Like many other schools, Essie’s has adopted an updated version of the 3 R’s. Their updated version summarizes the core values they want to teach their students: to be Respectful, Responsible, and Ready to Learn.
And as I expected, at age seven, Essie was able to rattle these off to me without hesitation, in the correct order. She’s absorbed the tagline, and knows it’s what is expected of every student who walks through the front door each morning.
If all sorts of other institutions can do this, why not families?
It’s never too late for a Family Tagline
I totally admit we’re playing catch-up on this process. But what really got me thinking about this was a series of conversations at church this past weekend.
- The sermon was about the core values that (should) bind together Christian communities as well as reflect their approach to the outside world: Respect, Compassion, and Grace. (If you want to read more about this, check out Ephesians 4:1-16.)
- Our pastor happens also to be mother to three grown children. When they were growing up, the values that she and her husband constantly drummed into them were Helpful, Thoughtful, and Kind. To this day, one of her grown children – who is sometimes frustrated at work with the co-workers she manages – will ask them if their actions are ‘helpful-thoughtful-or-kind.’ Just as Essie was able to rattle off the three R’s to me.
My husband and I are certainly on the same page when it comes to many of our core values. These are all things we discussed for years before we tied the knot. By the time we got to our premarital counseling sessions, there wasn’t one that came up in our sessions that we hadn’t already covered with each other.
But as we realized last night, we had never put them into a formal list of core values, that we would then deliberately teach to our children.
Oops. Not good.
How to Make a Family Tagline
So, whether you’re somewhere along this process (as we are), or starting from scratch, here’s how to use a family tagline to teach your child values:
1. TALK. Early, and often.
Of course, not everyone’s path to parenthood follows the same trajectory. So if you’re raising a child or two solo for whatever reason, please skip ahead a few paragraphs.
In an ideal world, you and your co-parent will have plenty of opportunities to get to know lots about each other’s approach to parenting before your firstborn arrives. Some of us know this time period as “dating”; for others, it’s “courtship,”
Use that time wisely.
There are books out there to help you with this, if you don’t know where to start.
If for whatever reason you’re solo-parenting, you may still find it helpful to talk this out with a trusted friend or relative. They can be your “sounding board” and help you clarify what’s really important to you, in your life as a parent.
2. Be deliberate.
Just being conscious of the fact that you need to hammer these things out ASAP (ideally, before you begin your parenting journey – but better late than never, if you’re playing catch-up as we are!) is a good place to start.
But as you continue to talk through your values together, keep thinking about you can boil all these down into a few key core values that you’ll then put at the center of every parenting decision you make, and every life lesson you seek to teach your child.
Dear Husband and I were pretty clear with each other, from when we first met until when Kimmie was born, about what our shared values were, and how we wanted to raise our children. In fact, we chose the girls’ preschool in part because ITS core value, the Golden Rule – treat each others the way you would want to be treated – lined up with one of our own.
But where we’ve fallen short is in not being deliberate about boiling these down into a family tagline, that our girls know so well they could rattle it off by heart if you asked them to.
And as I noted at the start, in a world where a million distractions are screaming for your children’s attention at any given moment, you need a sound byte to help YOUR message rise above the fray, and stick with them at their core.
That’s why making a family tagline is (I’m now realizing) a crucial step in this process.
3. Decide together what’s important and what’s non-negotiable.
As you’re compiling lists of values that you deem crucial, keep in mind that your core values (and the tagline that embodies them) should ideally be somewhere between 1-5 core values (a max of 3 is even better), and be something you all can agree on. Everything else that’s important should be able to fit UNDER one of those key values.
- This is why the Golden Rule works as a single, all-encompassing core value for the girls’ preschool. treating others the way you want to be treated covers pretty much all the bases of those “soft skills” preschoolers will need to grasp in order to succeed in kindergarten.
- The same can be said for Essie’s school. If students are Respectful, Responsible, and Ready to Learn, they’re primed for both academic learning AND interactions with peers and teachers.
- Or, for example, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.’s emphasis on helping each girl (G.I.R.L.) develop as a “go-getter, innovator, risk-taker, and leader.” (Which is one reason this life member is such an avid fan!)
- Likewise, a church with the tagline “Sharing Christ’s Love With All People” (our church’s tagline). Or a congregation with “Respect, Compassion, Grace” as its core values.
- Or the tagline of several conferences and workshops I’ve attended over the years, “Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly” (Micah 6:8).
See where I’m going with this?
4. Craft your tagline
As you sift through your values together, see if you can figure out which things are most important to you as a family. Then see if some of these values can boil down to a few key words or phrases that
- encompass all the other things on the list that you want to teach your child,
- and can be short and memorable enough that it’s easy to remember. (It’s hard to teach your child values with a catchphrase that’s long and complicated!)
This is where Dear Husband and I still have some work. And now that the girls are older, it might be appropriate to include them in the conversations as we go about doing this. (Which would also be a fun way to see how much they’ve absorbed our attempts to teach them values so far, anyway!)
Among the core values DH and I have long agreed on are
- treating others the way we’d like to be treated,
- being welcoming and hospitable to all (which probably falls under that first one somehow),
- respecting ourselves and others (from not touching other people’s stuff or beating up on ourselves, to respecting each other’s private space now that the girls are older),
- and respecting and caring for all of God’s creation, including our use of natural resources.
But as you can see, we have a way to go in boiling all that down into a memorable tagline. Which would certainly help all of us better adhere to values #1 and #3 on that list, which is hard to do when tempers get short.
5. Eat-breathe-sleep-embody your tagline
Once you’ve nailed down that short-but-sweet statement of core values, it’s time to make your tagline unforgettable for your family. This means making it a constant presence in all your interactions with each other.
- If you’re crafty, you could paint these values onto a sign that you hang prominently in your home, or embroider them onto a wall-hanging. Or you could just type them in large letters and post copies throughout your house.
- And at every turn, remind your children of this tagline – especially when they fall short. Not just as a constant criticism, but rather as an invitation to discussion (“I know you’re struggling with this; how can I help you work on this?”) and an opportunity for growth.
- But this goes both ways. You ALSO have to be accountable to living the values your family tagline embodies. (I know that as my amount of sleep goes down, so does my patience. Meaning I still struggle with values #1 and #3 above on a regular basis. I know it, my husband knows it, and the girls know it.)
- This means that if you struggle to live up to these values, you have to acknowledge your shortcomings to your kiddos and try to do better. And they have to be free to call you out on it when it’s justified. (After all, parents are only human, too!)
If you’re a parent (or about to become one), do you have a family tagline yet? Or have you nailed down your family’s core values that you want your children to absorb yet?
If so, might you share them with us? And do you have any advice for shortening our core values down into a catchy tagline that will stick with us? (That’s the next hack we need, personally!)
Either way, let us know in the comments!
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