Did you know that 8 moral values are upheld and shared by some 26 cultures across the world?1 According to C. S. Lewis — who extensively studied morality across cultures from Australian Aboriginals to the Romans, Vikings, Chinese and Western European societies, these values were found in all of them:
- Honesty and truthfulness
- Consideration and concern for others
Plato, with other philosophers, suggested that there are 4 foundational values or “cardinal virtues”:
- Moderation or temperance
Most, if not all, religions and societies also place the responsibility on parents to inculcate good values in their children.
There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent. — Mahatma Gandhi
TEACHING FAMILY VALUES THROUGH STORIES
Our children need to learn the values that we hold dear. Although they may test these values later on in life, childhood is the time to plant the seeds of good character so that these will grow deep roots through constant watering and nurturing. They will bear fruit in later years when they start to make their own decisions and choices.
A great way to teach children values is to read to or with them. Many children’s stories carry a message and impart a value. Children love us reading to them, and this can become part of the daily bedtime or after-dinner routine.
Choose a story that will illustrate one or two values that are important to you. At the end of the story, ask your child some of these questions:
- What would you do if you were the main character in this story?
- Was he/she right to do this? Why or why not?
- What could he/she have done differently?
- Which part did you like the most?
Even a story that is not inherently moralistic can teach values when you use the above questions as a guide to explore the story in a deeper way. Check out this link to discover some recommended books for young readers (although older children wouldn’t mind reading a picture book once in a while)!
This may sound like a simple family reading activity. In reality, it is more than that; it paves the way for a lifetime of dialogue and conversation with our children, which is especially important during adolescence.
OTHER WAYS TO CULTIVATE VALUES
1. Look for real-life people who exemplified that value.
Discuss their life stories at bedtime or over mealtime. Make sure they are relaxed and you are not rushed for time, as you want to hear to what they might have to say.
Examples of exemplary life stories include:
- Mother Teresa – humility, compassion, service
- Sir Edmond Hillary – perseverance, adventure
- Thomas Edison, Nick Vujicic – perseverance, resilience
2. Use movies to discuss values being conveyed in the story or the kind of characters portrayed.
Different movie genres can be used to explore a range of moral values.
- Animated movies and cartoons often appeal to young and old, and usually feature a villain and a hero.
- Superhero and action movies often convey the battle of good versus evil, and can be used to touch on the topic of violence.
- Feature movies and documentaries can connect the heart and mind on real-world issues — such as environmental conservation or the boundaries of race, culture, and gender.
- Hollywood classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as local productions like I Not Stupid and Homerun, help explore timeless truths that transcend cultures.
You may wish to check out these free online movie guides together: www.pluggedin.com or www.commonsensemedia.org or www.movieguide.org2
3. Hang décor (with values) in your home
You can invite values into your home by displaying them around the house. For example, buy a fridge magnet with a quote that reflects an important family value, or put up a poster with an inspirational quote. If you are good with craft, you can also make the magnets or posters with your child.
4. Model the behaviour you want
You are your child’s greatest role model.
At the same time, not all is lost when we fall short; we need to admit our shortcomings and try to right our wrongs. In the same way, we should be mindful to call out any behaviour, words and attitudes in our children that contradict the values we have set for our unique families.
When we are consistent in ensuring they – and we – act according to our family values, they will internalise these values over time. The values provide them with a strong, clear moral compass to point them towards good and right decisions. These values will empower them to honour the family and make us proud in the best way possible, while also feeling good personally.
Ultimately, having a family mission statement can be very useful in keeping everyone on track in living out our unique family’s values. This lets our children know that these values are the gold standard in our homes and lives.
© 2018 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
1 The Abolition of Man: How Education Develops Man’s Sense of Morality, 1947
2 Note that some of these sites are faith-based but contain reliable and useful content.