I was at the store the other day with my 3 year old son, Onetime, when he spotted a nickel laying on the floor. He picked it up and I said, “Oh, you found some money! I wonder where it came from…. I bet someone dropped it. Why don’t we leave it here with the cashier in case the person who lost it comes looking for it.” Then the cashier, (looking at me like I was crazy) said, “Oh, why don’t you just let him keep it.”
Why didn’t I? Why did I find myself explaining to her that I wanted my son to grow up to be the kind of person who would turn in a lost wallet with ALL it’s money still there. Why did I take such a little thing so seriously?
Well – isn’t it the small lessons that all add up at some point to create what our kids come to value and believe as right or wrong? I think so.
How do kids develop their values?
They learn by seeing how we act, from hearing what we say to others, and from how we treat them. Maybe this is a good thing – maybe not so much!
Today’s post will talk about the ups and downs of teaching our kids what is important to us – and how we can use that to our advantage to pass on all of our ideals.
Kids Learn By Watching Us
Do as I say, not as I do.
Why doesn’t that work? Because most kids are highly visual learners. From infancy, they are absorbing huge amounts of information by watching those around them.
As they get older, they are carefully watching how we act with our partners, how we treat others in the community, how we respond to those weaker than us and those that need our help, and how we move through our daily tasks.
According to Morris Massey, kids up to the age of seven are like “sponges,” absorbing everything around us and blindly “accepting much of it as true, especially when it comes from our parents.” He call this stage the “Imprinting Period.”
Mother nature designed children to learn this way. If we had to formally instruct our kids how to do everything, they’d be still learning how to dress themselves at age 10!
So the question becomes, are we showng our kids our values in our everyday actions?
In order to answer this question myself, I had to make up a list of things that really mattered to me that I wanted my son, Onetime to value as well. Then I reflected a bit on each. Was I really doing enough to show him how important these things are?
Here is my list in no particular order of importance. I have already blogged about many of these values within this Character Series – so I included the links to relevant posts.
- a close-knit, supportive family where we are deeply connected to each other and respect one another
- working hard at a task and the pursuit of excellence
- peace and acceptance/tolerance of others/doing no harm
- creativity, imagination, and self-expression
- lifelong learning, the pursuit of education, and the satiation of curiosity
- persistence through life’s challenges with a positive/optimistic attitude
- kindness and empathy towards others
- keeping myself healthy: emotionally and physically
- spending time in nature, and protecting the environment
- fun and a sense of humour
I would strongly recommend you make your own list! If you’re struggling with this task, check out this article at Mind Tools designed to help you determine your core personal values.
After making my list, I started thinking about which of these values were the most important to me and I put them in order of importance. Then I started thinking about what I was DOING to demonstrate these things were important to me.
It was an interesting, and enlightening task and I learned a lot about myself and what I’m doing well to pass along my values to my son, and what I maybe need to work on (gotta keep working on that optimism thing!).
For me, parenting, and life itself, is a work in progress. But it helps to have goals!
Kids Learn by Hearing What We Say to Others
My husband and I became painfully aware of this when at a childcare center a few months back, my son shouted out “Get out of my way, idiot!” to another child who was in his way.
My husband who was with him at the time was completely mortified and dealt with it really well in my opinion (read about his awesome response here).
Now I could swear that Onetime had never heard those words used in exactly that phrase before, but probably had heard similar things muttered while my husband was driving (he’s known to get a little hot under the collar when behind the wheel).
The point though, is that this embarrassing scenario was a wake-up call for my husband, and a reminder to us both, of how much our son is absorbing from hearing how we talk.
I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes when driving, or when guests are visiting, I tend to forget that my son is always listening…to EVERY word!!! He will often remind me of this by piping up from the backseat suddenly, “What you talking about Mommy?” when his Dad and I are deep in conversation.
I decided to make a list of common situations where we are speaking to others and might need a gentle reminder that our kids are listening and learning from what we are saying.
- how we talk to others on the road while we’re driving
- how we talk about the neighbours when they’re not around
- how we talk about our own family members when they’re not around
- how we talk to our partners when we’re upset
- what we say when we receive a gift, or a thoughtful surprise
- how we ask waiters/waitresses for something that was forgotten or incorrect
- what we say when we are frustrated, angry, and/or hurt
- how we joke with our partners/friends
- how we describe our children and their behaviour to our friends and family members
I’m sure you can think of other situations too that I’ve left out, and I bet you have some funny stories of your kids copying some less than desirable words that have been said in some of these situations! I know I do! Feel free to share them in the comments section below!
Sometimes it helps to just remember how much they are taking in through this sense – and how these “voices” that they hear will come to be thought of as acceptable ways of talking themselves.
Kids Learn Values From How We Treat Them
If we believe in a close-knit family that is connected, are we showing that when we are spending time with our kids? Are they getting some regular time with us where they have our undivided attention?
If we value respect and empathy, do our words reflect that when we are angry with our kids?
If we believe persistence through struggles is important, are we giving our kids opportunities to try things themselves and possibly even make mistakes or, God-forbid – fail?
If we want our kids to value generosity and sharing, are we sharing our things with them… sometimes? LOL
Just some things to reflect on….
My purpose in writing this post was certainly not to make anyone (including myself) feel inadequate as parents in any way, but to help myself, and perhaps other parents, to be a little bit more conscious about our actions, our words, and our interactions with our kids, knowing how much they are like little sponges.
These early years are so important in so many ways, and on so many levels. As parents, we have such a huge responsibility to our kids to set them up for success in life the best we can with what we know.
I hope you didn’t mind joining me on this reflective journey and that maybe, you realized that you are doing some things incredibly well – and that some things can be done better – and that’s okay. We’re all in the same boat together.
To keep following our alphabetic journey make sure to visit our Character Series page.
To raising kids with VALUE (get it?)! I know, I know…groan!
Dean of Little Steps says
I so agree with you! That old adage after all is also true – “Practice what you preach” 🙂 #alphabetphoto.
Sue Lively says
Yep – that’s a great saying with so much truth to it. Kids really do have a way of making us better people, don’t they? Thanks for dropping by Dean! Best, Sue
LOVE this. I’ve been a little less…well, nice since my husband left for training until April (apparently I’m not handling stress well this time) and I’ve noticed a change in my kids as well. Time to start working on me.
THanks for posting!
Sue Lively says
It’s true Kalista. Whenever I’m feeling tired or grumpy or stressed-out – I start to see the mirror-image in my son’s behaviour. Hope things look up for you! Thanks for dropping by and for the positive feedback! Best, Sue