Teaching values

Life’s many lessons.

As many of you have probably heard before, “YOU are your child’s first teacher!” That includes many aspects of life, including values. The way you conduct business in your daily life and talk to people is what your child sees and hears. They are learning from you! The first lessons a child learns are about love. The way a parent responds to an infant’s cries by feeding, changing or comforting him is a lesson about love. This type of lesson teaches a child that he is worthy of love and it plants seeds of positive self-esteem. The feeling of security about getting his own needs met later helps a child adapt and be able to show concern for others. Just how social, intellectual and language development grows in stages, so does moral development.

Birth to one-years-old is when your child is driven by curiosity and doesn’t know if he is doing right or wrong. A child at this age begins to realize that he can get a reaction as a result of doing something. Although he does not understand another’s perspective, you may see your 1-year-old try to comfort another child. This is ultimately the beginning of something called, empathy. Empathy is the ability to share another’s feelings, and related to that, kindness and compassion.

Age two to three is when your child’s motivation for doing something is usually to be assertive and show independence. If a child has been given consistent and reasonable limits, he has learned about what behaviors are acceptable. This is not to say that a child this age won’t test those limits and attempt to show that they can make their own choices. A child this age likes choices and to do things independently. At this stage they are developing self-reliance, pride, commitment and patience.

Age three to four are when your child will become egocentric! A child at this age is more willing to follow rules because they realize that they will get rewarded and avoid punishment. Things are right or wrong because parents/caregivers say so, not because the child can reason abstract cause and effect. Tolerance, fairness, humor and loyalty start to develop during this stage.

Five-years of age is the state of unquestioning obedience. A 5-year-old thinks the right thing to do is obey, not because of an inner conviction of doing right, but to simply stay out of trouble. During this stage you will see a child learning cooperation, helpfulness, honesty, pride, respect and responsibility.

There are several ways you can guide your child through the many stages. Michigan State University Extension advises reading books which illustrate values, having conversations about values and what is important to you as a parent and a family that will help guide your child through the stages. Lead by example by doing things that show your child the values that are important to you, and also taking the time to explain why something is good or bad.

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