“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Every parent wants their children to grow up with strong core values and habits, but in the chaos of everyday life, it can be difficult to focus on instilling them. After you rush from work to preschool to swimming lessons to the dry cleaner, it’s all you can do to make sure that everyone eats and has a bath before bedtime (finally!) arrives. Sure, when the opportunity arises you might make a quick observation about why empathy, problem-solving, or good nutrition is so important. But as far as your kids are concerned, those comments are in one ear and out the other.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by all we need to teach our children, especially when it comes to the big issues. If that’s how you are feeling, take a moment to relax and remind yourself: the best way to tackle big tasks is to break them down into small steps.
With summer’s longer days, better weather and more relaxed schedules, it’s the perfect time to create some teachable moments.
This summer, try a family experiment: Choose two or three values to focus on and work on blending those values into your family’s daily life.
- If another child seems left out at a party, encourage your child to invite him to play. Later, refer back to this incident. “See how happy it made Jordan when you asked him to play kickball with you?”
- Volunteer with your kids. Walk dogs at a local animal shelter or visit a nursing home for hugs. This builds both community and compassion, and teaches your children they can make a difference.
- Don’t perpetuate the “Just five more minutes” game. When it’s time to get out of the pool and go home, it’s time to get out of the pool and go home. Say what you mean and do what you say.
- At a party, encourage your child to put the needs of others ahead of her own. Ask her to step back and let others get their cake first, for instance.
- Insist on sharing. Teach your child about waiting to play with a toy until someone else is done, or asking nicely if they can both play with the toy.
- Create a recycled art project. Talk about why recycling matters and have them create something fabulous from materials like toilet paper rolls, paper plates, milk cartons, egg cartons, etc. (Google “recycled art projects for kids” for some great ideas!)
- Get kids involved in home conservation efforts. Teach them to turn off lights, close doors, turn off the water while brushing teeth, etc. You might even make a friendly competition out of who can remember to do these things most often.
- Go for a walk in nature. (This is good for you too.) When kids love and understand nature, they’ll be more motivated to conserve it - both now and in the future.
- Play the alphabet food game. Starting with A (apples, asparagus) and B (beans, blueberries), try to eat through the entire alphabet this summer. (Keep track with a chart on the fridge.) It’s a great strategy for getting kids to try a variety of foods, including “yucky” ones like sardines or spinach.
- Turn healthy foods into fun treats. Instead of ice cream or candy or chips, offer fresh watermelon slices, homemade orange juice popsicles, or blueberries (bonus if you picked them yourself!) with fresh cream. Talk about making nutritious choices and be sure to comment on how delicious it all tastes.
- Teach your child to notice the good things that are all around us in everyday life. For example, as you walk down the sidewalk say, “Aren’t Mrs. Brown’s flowers pretty? We live in such a beautiful neighborhood.” Or, “Look how happy Fido is to see you when you come home. We have a great pet, don’t we?”
- Start a new mealtime or bedtime ritual. Ask your child to name things that he is grateful for, and make sure to point out things he should appreciate about himself.
- If your child says, “I don’t want to drink milk,” don’t just ask what else she’d like to drink. Teach her to think about the next step and be proactive by requesting what she would like: “Could I have water instead?”
- Involve your child in answering questions and finding solutions to problems. If your son is upset because he can’t reach a toy on a high shelf, ask, “How do you think you could get it down? Could you reach it if you stood on your stool?”
It’s easy to think of teaching good values as one of the scarier and more daunting tasks of parenthood, but it’s really just about living by design and making conscious choices about your family’s habits, attitudes, and priorities. If you commit to “summerizing” your values in the coming months, you and your kids may just grow closer to each other and create some great memories together!