Wouldn’t it be nice to raise children who understood what is important to their family and acted accordingly? Wouldn’t it be nice to have kind, courteous, well-behaved children who maintained their good behavior even when adults were not present? Wouldn’t it be nice to have children who felt so secure in their parents’ love to reach out to them when they were in trouble, hurting, or needing support?
Sound impossible? Well, it is not. Children who are raised to be value-driven can complete all of these tasks, and many more. Values are what humans use to decide what is right or wrong, what is important in life, and what it means to be a good person. Value-driven children are raised with clear messages about the values of their families so that they can learn and apply them in their own life.
Clearly stated, value-driven children are able to understand that what we do, what we say, and how we behave communicates what we believe. This means that children who are value-driven are more likely to have the same behavior in front of parents or adults as when they are by themselves. They use the values they have learned to direct their behavior and see their actions as a representation of what they believe and who they are.
Raising value-driven children isn’t as mystifying as it may appear. Values are learned from a consistent set of limits and discipline that do not change over the course of childhood and adolescence. Limits and discipline expand little by little as children grow and develop to reflect their developmental level and expanding social context (e.g. family, school, community, larger world, etc.). With time children learn to use the limits and discipline as a base to make their own decisions about what is right and wrong or what they will do and avoid doing.
Many parents believe that their children know how to behave and what the family rules are. Yet many parents have never explicitly spoken about behavioral expectations or clearly stated their family rules. And few families directly talk about their values. Frequently parents wait until their children are doing something they do not agree with or find irritating before correcting their child towards a different behavior. In these cases, children are left to do as they please until they reach a threshold that their parents will not tolerate. This does not provide sufficient structure for children to identify their limits or understand why their behavior is irritating or inappropriate. It can be even more confusing when the tolerance threshold changes depending on the day (week day vs. weekend), location (home vs. restaurant), or who is present (mom vs. dad).
Raising value-driven children requires the clear selection of specific values as well as implementing limits and discipline that support the values selected. To see examples of the wide variety of values that parents can choose, please see my blog post titled, “Wondering what values are right for your family? Choose from this abbreviated list.”
In order to raise value-driven children, parents must:
- Select values important to the family
- Be a role model for the selected values
- Teach those values consistently to children through defined limits and discipline
- Permit children to practice regulating their behavior to meet the required limits and discipline.
This practice, over time, leads to the internalization of the values and begins to automatically guide children. The knowledge of what is right and wrong, or what actions are appropriate or not, gives children the confidence to evaluate situations and choose their own behavior in accordance with their family’s values. Ultimately this helps with a healthy development of self-esteem and self-control.
As children mature, the values they practice through limits and discipline become internalized as a permanent part of who they see themselves to be. The values convert into guiding principles that they use to evaluate situations, made decisions and choose their actions. When this happens, children feel grounded and confident because they have a solid base in which to make their choices. They are not distracted by the situation itself, the people present, or wondering what is important in that moment. Rather, they know what is right and wrong, they know what is important to them, and they know how to express these ideas to those they are with in a respectful manner.
More importantly, raising value-driven children deeply links children with their family. All family members share a common understanding of what it means to live well and share the same resources to manage both pleasant and difficult times. Having a shared family vision makes it easier for children and teens to reach out to their parents in moments of stress or indecision because they know how their parents are going to react and relate to them. Furthermore, they will accept their parents’ deeper knowledge of the situation because the entire family will be looking at the issue from the same perspective. Together, this creates a place of safe understanding and confidence.
Raising value-driven children is central to having a warm family environment in which children are both happy and healthy. Furthermore, value-driven children will reach out to their parents in moments of pain or trouble to find the comfort and assistance they need. It is worth the investment of time to purposefully raise value-driven children.
About the instructor
Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.