How to shape your kids’ values


children-valuesMy wife and I recently returned from a week-long trip to New York City to visit our adult daughters. They live two blocks away from each in the wilds of Brooklyn and are both doing very well in their chosen paths.

It seems like yesterday when they were young and like all parents, my wife and I worried about their future. What kind of adults would they turn out to be? Would we like them? Would they like us? Would they be happy?

Recently, a mom raised these same kind of child-rearing worries at the end of one of her visits: “Will my child have the same values as an adult that we hold so strongly?”

How to shape the values that your children will have as adults is actually simple, but very hard to do. The larger culture surrounding our kids, from cell phones to Facebook, to friends at school, all have a huge impact on forming children’s values. As a parent you can control where they live and for the most part the activities they participate in, but there are limits to your control.

Here’s what you can do…

 1. Reflect on your own values.

What is really important to you as parents? How do you want to live? Think about the qualities that embody your values that you admire in others and make a list of the top 5 traits. Ours were integrity, kindness, community mindedness, good work ethic, and a spiritual foundation. What are yours?

 2. Live your values!

Model the behavior that you want your children to emulate—namely, you have to be the person you want your children to be! (This is easier said than done!)  We have to “walk the talk” if we want our children to follow in our footsteps. If you want them to be honest, you have to be honest. If you want your children to be calm adults—you have to stay calm. Kids don’t respond to lectures—they are “monkey see, monkey do” all the way.

 3. Reward and reinforce the behavior that reflects your values

Finally, you have to be very mindful about what behavior you reward (reinforce). Do you reward responsible behavior or do you reward performance (grades)?  Do you reward integrity (Doing the right thing)or do you reward compliance (doing what others want)? Take time to figure out what is actually important and what isn’t.

I was less concerned about rewarding their performance in school than their “doing the right thing” and being kind to others. Whenever they stood up for what they believed was right, especially when it involved others, I expressed my approval with praise and attention. Rewards don’t have to be financial or material—kind words, positive attention, praise, and expressions of confidence are greatly prized by children!

My wife and I consider ourselves very fortunate. We made so many mistakes–I can remember every one that I made. But I guess, we did something right too.

 What are your some of your successes and challenges?


  1. Anonymous

    “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
    - David Orr

  2. Dr. Paul

    Very well said!