Sunday, July 3, 2011

How to Teach Morals and Values

There is no magical way to teach morals and values, yet they will be the most important lessons in life a child will learn. It was much easier to teach my child to read than it was to teach him how to be honest. What steps should a parent take in teaching morals?

First, define what morals you feel are the most important. Do you value honesty, integrity, compassion, responsibility, hard work? What about some of the harder ones like drug and alcohol use and teen sex? You can't teach all values at the same time so it is best to rank which ones are most important to you and concentrate on those. It also works well to teach a moral or value when the opportunity presents itself. For example, your child takes something from a store he didn't pay for. This is an opportunity to teach honesty.

Use your child's sense of feeling and/or self-direction. This also works best when a child presents an opportunity. If your child was incensed on how they were treated on the playground, remind her of how she felt being left out when she decides to leave somebody else out.

Use consequences or natural consequences. If you are going to punish bad behavior, you must also praise good behavior. Also, be careful with your punishments. If you are trying to teach a child violence is never okay, then don't hit them for hitting somebody else.

The most important of all is lead by example. You child must see you practicing what you preach. If you are trying to teach them about teen drinking, you must not drink as well. How is your child going to choose to stay away from smoking if you're smoking a pack a day?

Many years ago, I was at a grocery store in Chicago Heights, Illinois. I had a new baby and a five-year old daughter. We had gone in the late afternoon on a very cold day to the grocery store. When I got home, I found that I had not been charged for a 12-pack of soda. By the time I realized the mistake, it was dark and even colder outside. However, I bundled my children up again, drove to the store and went to the customer service desk to explain the mistake. The clerk acted put out that she had to correct the mistake and was a bit rude. I softly explained that I did not have to come back and it was more hassle than it was worth. When I drove off I was feeling angry that I had wasted my time with such an ungrateful store. When my daughter piped up and said, "Mommy, why did we have to come back to the store? If they didn't charge you for that stuff, it wasn't your fault." At that moment I realized what a great teaching opportunity I had and said, "It was the honest and right thing to do."

Here are just a few things we have done to teach certain morals and values.

Honesty: If our children are caught in a lie, they will get two punishments instead of one.

Stealing: Our children must pay back double of what they stole. If they take a siblings candy, they must buy them two to replace it. Another thing I did. One of my children once went around a clothing store and removed all of the paper tags and put them in her pocket. When we got home, I found them. Technically it wasn't stealing a product, but it still wasn't right. I took her back to the store, to the customer service department and made her confess what she did. This time the customer service agent kindly told her how much work it would take to replace the tags. She helped me teach the concept of right and wrong by taking the time to explain what the consequences were for the store.

Integrity: This is much harder than honesty. It goes beyond telling lies. We used Bernie Madoff's news story as an example of what happens when a person does not show integrity.

Cheating: If our child is caught cheating at school, we support the teacher, even if that means our child gets a lower grade. We never try to over ride the rules of the school. I think it's shameful of parents if they do.

Compassion: We have a neighbor with Down's Syndrome. From the moment my children knew who he was, I explained what was wrong with him and taught my children to be kind and understanding. I always remind them of how they would feel if the tables were turned.

Service: If a neighbor is sick, I have my child help deliver a meal. If their friend gets sick or has an accident, I make sure my child does something nice for them.

Responsibility: I have found the best thing to do to teach responsibility is to trust your child to make their own decisions and let them take responsibility for their actions. I was visiting grandma once with my children. I reminded one of them it was cold outside and to grab a coat. The child chose not to. When he complained he was cold in the car, I reminded him that it was his responsibility to grab his coat and he chose not to, but hopefully the heater would kick in soon and he would warm up. Grandma didn't think I should let my young child make that choice. I think it was the best thing I could have done. When you trust them with the little choices early on, they will make better choices when their is more at stake later.

Hard Work: We give our children extra chores and pay them well as a reward for working hard. We make them save for the fun things they want. They value it more when they work hard for it an buy it themselves.

Underage Drinking: We have set the rule that drinking is never okay. In order to enforce this, we wait up for our children every time they are out. If we do accidentally fall asleep, they are required to wake us up or they lose their cell phone privilege. We talk to them about what they did and make sure we are close enough to smell any evidence. When I drop my children off at parties, I always go to the door to meet the parents. I ask if they will be there the entire time and if alcohol will be served. This embarrassed my children at first, but they got used to it. It gave me a chance to know their friends as well.

Teenage Sex: Another hard one. We want our children to act responsibly if they are going to have sex. However, we decided that we would teach them that it is best to wait until they are married. We set a no dating until 16 rule though they could hang out with members of the opposite sex in large groups before that. After 16, we encouraged double dating.

Please comment on some of the things you have done that have worked in teaching morals and values.


Unknown said...

We downloaded short stories with strong morals at the end. Our kids listen to them and love them. Here's the link if anyone is interested.

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