Even before you started on the path of parenthood, you were brimming with well-defined convictions of what you wanted your child to learn, to absorb, to be. But how, exactly, do you do that? How do you pass on that vivid, ever important gift – your values – in a way that won’t cause little eyes to roll, little feet to wander away? Where do you start when you don’t have all the answers to all the questions? How do you light your child’s candle when your own is flickering with uncertainty?
Here’s the thing. You just have to do it.
You talk about your values. You spend one-on-one time with the kids. You explain, This is why we do that. You reinforce their efforts. That was very generous of you! And because kids soak up absolutely everything, you try your very best to practice what you preach, too. (Ahem.)
“The planet doesn’t need more ‘successful’ people. But it does need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it. -David Orr, Earth In Mind
Here are 5 values I’ve been trying to teach my young kids. And, because books are keys to wisdom, I’m including a few favourites that might unlock doors for your little ones.
Saying “Be kind to your little sister!” is a bit of a drag, so I’ve started asking for more specific actions from my eldest girl, Mia, like helping her little sister bring the forks to the table, or leading her to the potty. Big sister helping baby girl is something I value greatly, something that can (hopefully) be replicated in other ways later in life.
Book recommendation: How Kind!
“How kind!” says Rabbit, who does something kind for Cow, who is kind to Cat, who then wants to be kind, too.
2. BEING HELPFUL
This is a tough one for me. I love the idea of getting my 4 ½-year-old to help around the house, and I truly do value hard work. But putting it into practice is another beast altogether. That said, I believe that working towards something you love – such as a clean home, or homemade meals, or food from your garden – is absolutely beautiful. Yes, work is hard. It can be dirty and frustrating, but when you step back and appreciate the outcome, knowing you did that, you get a sense of satisfaction unlike any other.
Just yesterday, while the baby was sleeping, I asked Mia to help me separate the chicken meat from the bones. We settled at the table and got right into it. As we worked, she asked about different chicken parts, and bone marrow, and white meat and dark meat. She squealed with delight when I found a wishbone, and later told me that making a wish was the best part of her day.
Book recommendation: The Little Red Hen
None of her lazy friends want to help the little red hen finds her plant, harvest, or grind wheat into flour…. But they all want to eat the bread! This story emphasizes the benefits of working together.
“Without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” – Maya Angelou.
It’s not easy, is it? Pushing through fear in order to reach new milestones, doing the right thing even in the face of possible ridicule – so many things in life require courage. Speaking up is one of them. But how do you get a child to get the courage to speak up about issues at school, her worries, her monsters? Good timing helps, as does encouragement. I believe courage is one of the most valuable values you can impart to your kids, and it will go a long way to nourishing self-confidence and self-expression as an adult. Bon courage. You can do it.
Book recommendation: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
An amazing book! I love, love, love that there are books like this one to inspire young girls (and their mothers, and their aunts….) to be confident and to have grit and courage in life. A gem of a book.
P.s. If you want to discover more inspirational women, check this out.
A friend of mine recently told me that her child had been spending a lot of time with two twin girls. Out of curiosity, she asked him if he knew which one was which. No, he replied. But it doesn’t matter. They’re both fun to play with. Young children naturally seem to have an ability to look beyond physical appearance, race, and gender. The trick is to keep reinforcing that sense of equality as they grow up.
Book recommendation: The Little Prince
« On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur, l’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux ».
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
I have this book in French and Spanish. The French version is the one I had as a child, a beautiful, well-worn hardcover. The Spanish version was given to me as a gift when I first moved to Guatemala. According to local folklore, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of this book, found inspiration while staring at Cerro de Oro, the hill of gold that really does look like the famous boa constrictor that swallowed the elephant. While I absolutely loved this book as a child, I appreciate it even more as an adult. Beauty, innocence, and wisdom on every page.
Integrity is about more than being honest – it’s about doing the right thing in all circumstances, no matter who is watching. This boils down to teaching your child the difference between right and wrong. While a lot of this skill is learned simply by osmosis, I recently heard about setting up scenarios that start with “What would you do if…” to get children to think about their choices. This may be more appropriate for older kids, but I like the idea of bringing integrity out of the abstract and making it more accessible.
Book recommendation: Yertle the Turtle
“SILENCE!” the King of the Turtles barked back. “I’m King, and you’re only a turtle named Mack.”
This book was deemed “too political” for one British Columbia classroom, and that was enough to make me want to check it out. I’m so glad I did – it’s now my favourite book by Dr. Seuss. I love it when Dr. Seuss gets revolutionary. I won’t tell you more… You’ll have to check this one out yourself.
So there you have it. This is by no means a definitive list. I imagine some values will shift as the kids get older, and others will be added.
You may never know the very best way to impart your values, or to deal with your own flickering flame. But you know what? The candle will always flicker. That’s the beauty of the dance.
Tell me, what are some of the values that are most important to you?