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Give your children the values they deserve

Peers, TV shows, movies, internet and magazines with so many external pressures facing children at younger and younger ages, a typical parent may often wonder: How can I get my children to listen to me instead of the 'cool' children at school?

How do I teach my child the importance of hard work, courage, honesty, integrity and humility?


In order to dispel the fear of challenges, parents can provide small amounts of support and reassurance

There is hope. Using the correct approach, parents can have a much stronger influence than any friend, YouTube or TV commercial. Of course, this is often easier said than done.

Teaching values takes time - a scarce commodity for many parents today. Our increasingly competitive economy is creating an environment where father and mother are spending longer hours at work and fewer hours with their children.

What can a parent to do under such circumstances? For me the answer can be summed up in the following brief paragraph.

Somehow you need to find quality time to be with your children and make the time you have with them really count. You have to talk with them about what's right and wrong, and what constitutes good behaviour and what doesn't.

Have these conversations on a regular basis and the topic of values becomes a completely 'normal' one in your household. That way, in the future, even if your children do face moral conundrums, they're going to be more comfortable broaching the subject with you than with their peers. If you do not address these issues with your children today, peers and the media will fill in the void.

That may sound like a tall order, especially if most of your dialogue with your children revolves around "What's for dinner?" or "Where's the remote control?" Still, there are many ways to weave lessons about values into your everyday interactions with your children.

Example

One of the most important things you can do is set a good example for your children. They learn from seeing how you treat them, overhearing your interactions with others and observing what you do in different situations throughout the day.

If you want your children to exhibit values like honesty, self-respect and compassion, then you need to show these qualities yourself.

All the teaching in the world can be undone if your children watch you behave in ways that contradict what you've said.

They won't think it's important to follow through on commitments if you back out on organizing the College fund-raiser or fail to take them to the zoo as you promised.

They won't think there's anything wrong with lying if they hear you phone your boss saying you're sick when you just don't want to go to work, or if the phone rings and you tell your wife to tell the person that you're not home.

Teach your child that integrity matters. Integrity is the quality of being able to be trusted. It means that what we say we'll do, we will do; that the affection we profess is genuine and the praise we give is honest.

To teach children to grow up like that is particularly difficult in a world where integrity seems in short supply. "I'm so ashamed," said a friend recently.

"My 16-year-old son has been helping an older friend fix up a second hand car, and the other day he told us he had helped sell it too. Know what he said? He said, "I showed Brian that trick with the mileage Thathi used when he got rid of his car"

Perhaps a child learns integrity best of all when he has tasks to do and is required to do them. That lesson isn't much fun. It means holding a child to a task until it is finished; it means trusting him to do things on his ownwhich he may spoil in the process.


Somehow you need to find quality time to be with your children and make the time you have with them really count

Integrity also means that a child is taught to accept blame when he does something wrong. A mother told me, "When our son was six, he saw a comic book with an appealing cover.

He had only about fifty rupees, so when the shop assistant wasn't looking he appropriated the book. His father found out and came to me in dismay. Of course it had to be paid for, I agreed, but couldn't we just take the money to the store?

But my husband would not settle for that, and in the end a small boy, accompanied by his father, went back to the store and told the proprietor what he had done. My husband was right. Integrity does not come without a price, and this is best taught when children are small."

Courage

Hand in hand with integrity comes courage. Parents should teach a child to be brave. So how do we teach our children to be brave? Firstly, we need to model being brave and proud of our own moments of courage. We also need to teach children to persevere. We can encourage this by praising and rewarding effort, focusing less on the outcome of a project than on the process.

In order to teach mindfulness in spite of fear we can provide scaffolding - small amounts of support and reassurance to help children move gradually through increasingly anxiety-provoking situations. The parent's support and soothing words help the child calm down enough to manage fear. Over time the child learns to calm himself down, so the ability to self-soothe is internalised. Current research suggests that this is a result of the strengthening of those brain pathways that manage stress.

As well as offering appropriate support, we can also help our children develop confidence by 'letting go'. In her excellent book on parenting, Letting Go as Children Grow, Deborah Jackson, a British writer, points out that while children need adult support, they do not need interference, which can damage their growth. If we learn to trust our children at each stage, they are more likely to find their own courage. When parents do a little less there is the likelihood that children will feel freer to do a lot more.

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