Thursday, August 4, 2011

Inculcating values in children

A friend asked me this question and it set me pondering "How can we inculcate values into our children?"

After some introspection, I thought of a few ways by which this can be effectively done and I give them below.

Start Early - The younger a child is, the better it is to mould them as per our desires. Their minds are still flexible and open to learning. The kind of exposure they get as infants really sets the course for their lives. The younger a child is, the easier it is to get her time. As they start growing up, they find lesser and lesser time for parents. Young kids often seem eager to listen to stories and what better way to introduce values through simple and interesting stories? Besides stories, one can also do simple course corrections in day to day life too. For example, if you catch them lying / stealing / being dishonest, you can use the occasion to help them understand the importance of values.

Set Examples - Children tend to mimic their parents. If the parents are always smiling and cheerful, the child tends to be like that. If the parents are grouchy or serious, the child becomes that too. It is not merely genetics at play here. It is also the overpowering influence of someone the child looks up to. So, if we want our child to be less aggressive, for instance, we need to display that behaviour too. No point in using threats to change an aggressive behaviour - that will be counterproductive. We cannot scream at a child and say "STOP SCREAMING". The child learns to be quiet if we show her how. We cannot also ask the child to lie when it is convenient for us - for example, "Tell them I am not at home" when you want to avoid a phone call, gives a subtle message to the child that it is OK to lie.

Praise openly - There are many occasions when the child displays good behaviour. Make her feel special whenever she does well. Let her realise that good behaviour leads to instant acknowledgement and positive strokes. Tell everyone around, and within her hearing, of your joy and pride on her positive behaviour. Create a self image in her mind that will encourage her to make values an integral part of her character. Giving a gift / reward for positive behaviour may not be sustainable nor is it the right thing to do.

Counsel mildly - There would be occasions when the child falters and it is the responsibility of every parent to counsel the child. The method of counselling would have to be mild. It cannot be done by using force, threats or even punishment. The child should be made to realise through a soft discussion on the consequences of not practicing values. Old stories may be repeated and used for reinforcing. The whole effort would have to be to get the commitment from the child to be better in future. We should realise that no one is perfect and that everyone deserves a chance to improve and evolve.

Make Rules - It is easy to form habits when one is young and something is repeated frequently. There are many simple values that can be built in our children if we have simple rules in force. For example, we can have rules of etiquette to be followed religiously - Saying "please", "Thank you", talking softly and smiling often can all be programmed in children at an early age.

Right environment – For a child to inculcate values, it is important for her to grow up in the right environment. Parents can help in this process significantly. Is she having the right kind of friends? Is she having the right kind of activities? Is the school right for this? Is she staying in the right locality? Is she watching the right kind of programs? All of these are factors which have direct / indirect influences on her character. Choosy parents will make sure that every aspect is attended to and that there are no negative influences coming her way.

Shower Trust – One important dimension that parents should remember is to trust their child. They should explicitly and implicitly tell the child that they trust her fully. They should never be seen as probing too deeply and checking every single thing minutely. This is especially true as the child reaches adolescence. Otherwise, it might cause the child to rebel and display opposite behaviour.

The above points are not necessarily comprehensive. I am sure readers will have more suggestions and thoughts on this topic. I welcome your thoughts which will add value to this note and help in inculcating values in our children and through this process make our society a happier place to live in.