Psychologically Speaking: Teaching values

So what are acceptable behaviors and what values do you want to transmit to your children?

leave it to beaver 88 (photo credit: )
leave it to beaver 88
(photo credit: )
While teaching your child to stand in line and wait patiently to be fed, or suggesting that your child not scream or hit, you may discover that you have the only child 'behaving' and as such he risks being ridiculed I was turning into a parking lot the other evening just as a woman was exiting. She was on the wrong side of the road - planning to leave through the entrance to the lot. She was chatting away on the cellphone she held in her hand, oblivious at first to what was wrong. I beeped gently to get her attention, as until she backed up and moved over, I could not get in, yet she refused to move but instead was insistent that I back up into oncoming traffic. As I mused to my son in a less than compassionate voice - "She just doesn't get it"- I began to wonder what values she is teaching her children and what values I might be teaching mine, as we both sat locked in a stalemate, convinced that the other was wrong. People coming from other countries often go through culture shock as they attempt to make sense out of values they encounter that differ markedly from their own. The longer they live in a new place, the more conflicted they may feel about teaching their native values versus adopting those of their new country. Which are more appropriate and which seem better ultimately has to be determined for each situation and for each family. While teaching your child to stand in line and wait patiently to be fed or suggesting that your child not scream or hit, you may discover that you have the only child "behaving" and as such he risks being ridiculed. That said, assuming you believe your values are important, still appropriate and preferable to those of your child's peers, you continue to instill them in your child yet explain how and why others may not act the way they do. One can only hope that with time, the values you admire will ultimately be integrated into society here - in the classroom, at the bank and on the roads. So what are acceptable behaviors and what values do you want to transmit to your children? Your actions will help determine their behavior. Here are a few areas that you may wish to explore. 1. Politeness. If you must interrupt when two people are talking, do so in a way that shows respect for and awareness of others. Help show your children the right way to interact, be it in the line at the supermarket or while trying to enter a traffic circle. So often I see parents allowing their children to interrupt or accepting their child talking in a loud voice in an attempt to be "heard" over his parents. Something is wrong when that happens. 2. Limit setting. It is not only okay to say "no" to your children, but it is actually important for them to not get everything they ask for. We often think that more is better, but a parent who thinks that making a child happy is more important than teaching appropriate values will be surprised to discover she may have a spoiled, overindulged and unhappy child. There is no such thing as spoiling a child with too much love but being overindulgent or not setting appropriate limits will do that. This and lack of consistency are the most frequent problems I see when families come to my office complaining of behavioral problems. Many children have learned that by asking a second, third or a fourth time, the answer will be a "yes" or by nagging the other parent, they will get the answer they have been looking for. This is, in many ways, the "gimme" generation and like many adults, some children have a strong sense of entitlement and will complain quite loudly when their wishes are not met. 3. Honesty and integrity. The number of children who think it is okay to steal at someone else's expense - whether by cheating, copying the work of others or taking something that belongs to someone else - is appalling. Perhaps they witnessed an adult taking a parking spot that was not rightfully theirs or jumping a line, giving the impression that if it was okay for an adult, it must be okay for a child. We have become a society that does not hold people accountable for their actions but rather excuses them with no consequence when something was done wrong. People need to learn the importance of taking responsibility for their own behavior. 4. Volunteerism. Everyone can and should help out and help others. Whether at home, with a pet, a younger child, an elderly relative, a neighbor, at school or a local hospital or animal shelter, there is much one can do and being a volunteer can feel amazing. Often we are so focused on ourselves; we forget to look out for the next person and help out our fellow man. 5. Health. Looking after oneself and one's physical, emotional and spiritual needs is essential in today's society, filled with stress and a multitude of illnesses. We can insist that our teens don't drink and drive, allow children on their bikes only when wearing helmets and encourage them to take an active interest in their own health and well-being. Most of us are blessed to have arms and legs, our eyes and our ears, children and elders, friends and a family, and we should be incredibly grateful that we have the opportunity to experience all that life has to offer. If your child sees that you appreciate and take your health and everything else that you have seriously, he is more likely to do the same. I've just touched on a few values that are important to remember on a daily basis. There are so many more and perhaps if you sit down and brainstorm with your children, you might be surprised to discover just what it is that they see as important. In the interim, while there are many things we can complain about, how we ultimately choose to raise the next generation is very much dependent on how we choose to see ourselves today. The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana. [email protected]