If you sat down with your parents and asked them about the values instilled in them at an early age, they’d probably look a little different to what you have in mind for your own kids. Modern parenting, while similar in many ways, has changed over time and continues to change as society does.
In past generations, there was little questioning of the ‘wisdom of elders’. A past conception of children was often they should be ‘seen and not heard’. Children were taught to be respectful and not interrupt unless it was an emergency, and that social awareness was crucial to a happy family life.
Skip ahead some years, to your grandparent’s generation, and children were given a bit more of a voice. They were still taught to respect their peers, teachers and elders, but they were also taught to respect for all, including themselves. In other words, children were taught their opinions were valued, but only when expressed in an appropriate time and fashion.
Other values instilled at this time included:
Children were applauded for telling the truth, even when punishment was imminent. Parents had responsibility in seeing this happened, by always taking the time to listen for an explanation.
Children model their parents’ behaviour and by watching others, they were taught to use “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” and “you’re welcome.” Social etiquette was a big thing.
Responsibility and the will to work hard was considered the recipe for happiness. When you achieve your goals and feel fulfilled, your life has meaning and ultimately you are happy.
The principles of self-reliance were thought to help children manage their emotions and behaviour. They were taught early that everyone makes mistakes, and it’s important to take responsibility for certain actions.
Yesteryear’s education was considered “wholesome”, catering for the complete individual. It aimed at creating a whole human who would be fully prepared to overcome all of life’s challenges. Education centred on ethics and morality, manners, household coordination and subordination, learning good behaviour and the cardinal virtues of life. Was this right, or wrong?
The idea of instilling values is still ever present for most parents these days, but they are a little altered based on what we’ve learnt. Honesty, courtesy, respect, hard work, and self-reliance are still there, but life may not be centred around these values like they once were. Today’s big ones include:
Teaching your child to be thankful each day, even for the little things like a sandwich or a smile, is a gentle reminder life is a blessing we mustn’t take for granted. Children need to understand and sympathise with the fact not everyone has food, shelter, friends, nice clothes and toys like they do.
Part of recognising gratitude is recognising generosity, too. The importance of sharing will not only help your child interact with others at school, it will help them build a fairer world in years to come.
Children benefit from understanding that holding a grudge is an unhealthy habit that can cause them to grow up feeling bitter. Teaching children to move past things that have made them sad will fuel a healthier mindset.
Persistence is a tool that comes from parents teaching their children problem-solving skills. It ensures even when things go wrong and they are left feeling discouraged, they can pick themselves up and find the right solution.
Reciprocated emotion and demonstrated love and affection for others is today considered very important in front of your child. Children are naturally loving and affectionate, and when parents embrace this, the ability to share love stays forever.
How to instill today’s values
Your parents may not agree with the values you want to teach your children. According to the Raising Modern Australia report 76.2% of grandparents say they are surprised at how children are brought up these days, but standing by your values will lay the foundations of what you consider is a good citizen. It’s up to you to decide how to protect them from potentially negative societal influences.
Teaching values takes time, a rare commodity for some parents trying to keep up with the financial demands that come with running a household in the 21st century. Without time from parents, children are becoming influenced by the Internet, television, movies, games and music, which are shaping their perspectives more than ever before.
So, what’s a parent to do?
Parents must understand although instilling morals takes time, it doesn’t have to be hard work when naturally applied in your family’s day-to-day life. Hold conversations whenever possible – in the car, walking down the street, saying goodnight – so that the topic of “values” becomes a “normal” part of your child’s life. If you don’t address these issues with your kids, society will fill in the void.
There are many ways to weave lessons about values into your everyday interactions with your children through their questions such as “what’s for dinner?” or “can Billy come over to play?”
“What’s for dinner?” can turn into an opportunity to talk about the origin of food and what it means to have easy access to it. “Can Billy come over to play” can be an opportunity to discuss sharing and generosity. Of course, the best and easiest way to teach your children good values is to model good values yourself. Children learn best by watching you in different situations, so set a good example, exhibit values such as honesty, self-respect and compassion; and part of your work is already done. If there’s discrepancy between what you say and what you do, your kids aren’t going to take on the values you seek.