One thing most parents are really concerned about and think is important is the notion of teaching their children values. There is quite a bit of talk about how important this is and how to do it. Couple this with the societal decline in values that many people claim is happening and it becomes even more important to do something that really works. As usual, the typical solutions are very broad brush and many times do not work. For example, one of the more common solutions is the advice to parents that they need to model or live out the proper values in their own lives. This is so their children can see it and, hopefully, copy it into their own lifestyle. Unfortunately, this does not work most of the time because there is no assurance that the child has internalized the value. And, as odd as it sounds, there are many parents that do not have the rapport and credibility with their own children such that their children would want to emulate them.
Of what importance is it to teach our children values anyway? What do values do for or to us? Is this just a talking game that we participate in but which we don’t even value enough to figure out how to do it properly? Sometimes, I think it is. Primarily because I do not think we do a good job of doing it and/or we don’t know how to do it. We just kind of hope that it happens and we count our blessings when our children turn out with good values.
Values are those qualities of human experience that we think are so important that they provide the guidance for how we live our lives. Values are the guiding light to which we are drawn. They are the driving force that energizes our motivation and ability to live a certain way. So, they are pretty important–important enough that we need to investigate the process and learn more precise ways to teach them to our children.
So, what goes into the effective teaching of values? What are the sub-skills that we need to be able to do this? First of all, we need to know our own values. Secondly, we need to know which values we want to teach our children, and thirdly, we need to know how to teach those in a way that really works.
So, what are my values? What is important to me? I find that when I ask this question to others, I get a lot of puzzled looks and vague responses. Oh, I will get a lot of “off the top of the head” answers that are pretty standard like honesty, integrity, humor, responsibility, etc. And those are important ones. But I feel like the intensity is not there when I get answers like that. So, let us explore how to find the “real important” ones.
If you have a value that is real important to you, then you will have an emotional response to living it or not. If you are getting something that is important to you, you will have emotional responses like happy, elated, pleased, ecstatic, or joyous. If you are not getting something important to you, or if you find that the value is being violated, you will have emotional responses like frustrated, irritated, angry, displeased, or sad. So, one of the ways to find what really is important to us is to use our own emotions as a “window” into our “hierarchy of highly valued criteria”. Criteria are our means of judging or measuring our values. They are the standards by which we measure ourselves. The way to find these criteria is to find some incident that has happened to you with which you are either pleased or not pleased (pet peeves work wonderfully here).
Finding Your Hierarchy of Highly Valued Criteria
To find your hierarchy of highly valued criteria, ask the question to yourself “What is it about the (pleasing or not pleasing incident), that is so important to me?” As you answer the question either internally or out loud, listen for criteria.
When you think you have a criterion, verify it by asking yourself the question “So, is (criterion) important to me?” When you answer, you should get a full bodied, positive response. If you get a weak or wishy/washy response, you do not have one of your criterion.
When you get the full bodied, positive response, you can build the hierarchy by asking yourself “What is it about (criterion) that is so important to me?” Again, as you listen to your response, listen for criteria. The second criterion should be of higher value. The first criterion actually serves the second.
Continue this process until you get a good list of values or criteria or until you get circular answers or self concept type criteria (like “I feel good about myself.” Or “I like myself.”) A circular answer would be “When I do well at work, I feel good about myself and when I feel good about myself, I do well at work.”)
Continue to build the hierarchy and talk about the connections and your excitement will build even more until you are “really pumped up!” Now you know you have values or criteria that are really important to you and are energized.
Do this over 5-6 different contexts or situations to see if you can find other values. Make a list of all you find and maybe even prioritize them. Now you are beginning to find the values that are truly important to you.
Now the question becomes “Are these the values I want to teach my children? Are there any others that would empower their lives?” Probably if your spouse did the same process, you could come up with an expanded list. Make a list of all the values you want to teach your children.
The Teaching Model
(The following has been adapted from the “Building Self Esteem” chapter of the forthcoming book “Rediscover the Joy of Parenting.”) One of the important parts of teaching values is not just talking to your child about it (sometimes called preaching), but giving them an experience of the value. The simplest way to do this is to notice when your child does something very well. You then think of a value of which the behavior is an example. When you have one that you want to use, you say the following to the child: “That behavior lets me know that you are a (say value) kind of person.” So, for example, let’s suppose that your child got up one morning and made their bed without being asked. The value could be chosen from many—neat, respectful, sensitive, responsible, etc. Let’s use responsible. The statement would be: “Your getting up and making your bed without even being asked lets me know that you are growing up to be a very responsible young lady. I like that about you, don’t you?”
The structure of the process and language is as follows: 1) you are deliberately connecting the value of your choice to experiential evidence that the child cannot dispute, and 2) you are attaching your own credibility to the connection. If you will continue to elaborate on the connection and talk about the importance of the value, it will help cement it even more. Be careful, however, to not go overboard and be too effusive or the child could be turned off. Obviously, if you don’t have any credibility or rapport with your child, then it will not work.
One of the creative ways for parents to use this is to think of the kind of son or daughter they want to parent. Think in terms of the values you want them to embody. Then notice when they do something to which those values can be connected and deliver the statement. The behaviors can be minor or major. They can also be behaviors that they DO NOT engage in. For example, “I have noticed Tom, that you do not do drugs even though they are available to you. That lets me know that you are growing up to be very health conscious and that you are not just going along with the crowd. I am very proud of the way you make healthy decisions.”
Don’t wait for major behaviors before you do this process. It has power because of it’s precision. In fact, sometimes the minor behaviors have more effect because the individual has discounted them in the past. When you make the connection, you are alerting them to something they had not thought off and that always has a surprise effect which adds to the emotional response. This is especially true for the individuals that aren’t the stars—the home run hitters and/or the straight A students. With students with learning disabilities or other deficiencies, for example, this can have a very powerful effect, because they rarely get positive feedback. For example, I once had a teacher give me this report: “I had a student with Downs Syndrome one time and decided to use your process on him. After thinking about him for a while, it dawned on me that he always comes into my classroom with a big smile on his face and immediately comes over to me and gives me a big hug. The next time he came in and did that, I said to him “You know Doug, I have noticed that you always come in with a big smile and give me a hug. That lets me know that you are a very happy and loving person and I really appreciate that about you. You are very special to me.” The teacher reported that Doug puffed out his chest and never quit smiling for the rest of the class. And, every time he saw her after that, he would smile and give her a hug with the realization that he was special to her.”
If you have trouble noticing when they do something naturally that will allow you to make the statement, create something for them to do and when they do it successfully, make the statement. For example, I do this during my first visit with a new student. In the course of my assessment, I have them spell words backwards (from right to left). They usually have not tried this before and it is new to them. When they are successful at it (I use small words at first that they already know so they will not fail), I will make a comment like “That lets me know that there is nothing wrong with your brain. I can make you a star student by teaching you how to learn and do other things with your mind. I can help you be the kind of student you have always wanted to be.”
Another nice thing about this process is it’s lasting effect. It tends to go straight to the heart and soul of the child and sticks with them over time.
Integrate Through the Logical Levels
Every time you go through the above process, you can help the child incorporate it into their whole being by integrating it through the logical levels. If you will remember, the Logical Levels are: Environment, Behavior, Capability, Beliefs/Values, Identity, and Spiritual/Greater System. What you want to happen when you do a logical level integration, is for the child to take the new value and think about how it will be implemented at each Logical Level. This helps the child generalize the value to all areas of his or her life. This also helps take it beyond the special incident where you first commented on the value.
There are several ways to do this. You can lead the child through the process. The child can physically walk through the process. Depending upon the age of the child, he or she can do it theirselves. Or, you can linguistically talk the child through it.
Physically Integrating Through the Logical Levels
Lay out six pieces of paper on the floor with one of the Logical Levels written on each piece of paper. Place them in a straight line, in order, spaced about a foot apart. Have the child stand on each piece of paper while responding to the following related questions. Let’s take the previous example of the young lady that made her bed without being prompted and we called her responsible. Example responses of the child are in italics.:
Environment—“Where, when and with whom will you be responsible?”
“At home, in my room, at school. Morning and night at home. During the day at school. With my parents and brother, my friends, my classmates, and the teachers.”
Behavior—“What behaviors and/or actions will you do in those environments that will demonstrate that you are being responsible?”
“At home, I can do my chores on time and without be asked. I could even help out around the house in other ways. At school, get my homework done and turned in on time, do what the teachers tell me to do, and prepare for my tests.”
Capability—“What mental or cognitive capabilities or strategies will you utilize to help you act responsibly in those environments?”
“At home, I can really listen when my parents are talking to me. I can be more patient with my brother so we won’t fight. At school, I can stay focused on doing the school work, and making sure I know how to learn the lessons the teachers give me.”
Beliefs/Values—“What values do you have that will help support you being responsible and give you the motivation to act responsibly? What do you believe about being responsible?”
“I think it is important that you do what is right. It is also important to follow-up if you tell somebody you are going to do something. I believe it is important all through life to be responsible for what you do and to those around you.”
Identity—“Who are you that you would want to be responsible? What kind of person are you that you would want to act responsibly?”
Note: A metaphor works great here and in the next level.
“I want to be a role model for others around me. A person they look up to.”
Spiritual/Greater System—“Who else does it serve for you to act responsibly? Who benefits when you act responsibly?”
“Since I want to be a role model, I am like a beacon of light affecting not only those that can see me, but those that are touched by me, will touch others, and then they will touch others. It could touch people that I don’t even know and ripple around the world.”
It is very important that the child think up as much as they can and elaborate as much as possible. The more they elaborate, the more their physiology and emotions will be committed to the new value. Also, get them to gesture and move their body in a way consistent with the statements. Some children can “act out” their emotions better than others. So, if they can’t do it, don’t force it. It is important for the words to be their words—keep your opinion out of it and don’t translate their words. If they get stuck and you have an idea, you can offer it to them as a choice for them to accept or reject.
You don’t have to have them walk the Logical Levels. Some, especially the shy ones, might be inhibited by the exercise. You can just ask them the questions, and let them answer. If you can get them to walk, it would be better, but not necessary.
Another option is for you to linguistically walk them through the Logical Levels, especially if they are very young and if you have good rapport with them. In order to do this, just offer suggestions of ways to think about it to them as though they were at each of the Logical Levels. Be sure you keep it in the realm of suggestions or choices for THEM to accept or reject. And, use a lot of words that are soft and use a soft and accepting voice. Stay away from hard and invasive words. An example of how it would sound would be if you were to take the narrative (in italics) in the previous example and say it as though you were talking to your child as follows.
Linguistic Integration Through the Logical Levels
“So, Jane, I am wondering where you might consider being responsible. It could be at home or at school. It could be with your mother and me or your brother, or with teachers and other students at school. Since you are at home and school most of the day and night, you would seem to have ample opportunities to be responsible.
I am also wondering what behaviors or actions would be noticeable to let us know you were being responsible. I am assuming that one area might be the chores around the house and doing them in a timely fashion without being told. At school, it seems to me that it might involve doing the homework, correctly and on time. Also, adequately preparing for tests in a timely manner.
It also has occurred to me that some of the mental capabilities you might need to engage in would be to listen attentively and stay focused whenever your mother or myself is talking to you. Also, to listen to your teachers in the same way. Another mental capability you might use around your brother would be patience to ease the fighting. Another one might be to make sure you know mentally how to do your schoolwork.
Jane, I think as you learn to be more and more responsible, a whole new way of thinking about your family, your friends and school will open up for you. As you become more and more responsible, I think you will start thinking about the right things to do in your life and the right ways to treat those around you. You will learn to value people differently and, for example, if you tell somebody that you will do something, you will do it with gusto. You will start to believe in yourself even more.
You know, Jane, when I think of who you are, or the kind of person you are, I think of you as a good role model. Somebody others look up to and respect because you live responsibly.
When you are a good role model, others will want to be like you. So you are touching other people’s lives in a very positive way. In fact, those people will touch others too. So, you are like a pebble in a still pond. Your ripples fan out and touch others that you don’t even know about. That’s exciting, isn’t it?”
Of course, this process can be interactive in which you and your child are both offering ideas and talking about the value. This is probably the best way to do it if you can. It all depends on your relationship with your child. The critical thing is not to impose your ideas on the child. If you do, everything will be rejected. It is all about offering choices.
After you have finished the Logical Level integration, another process that can be used to get it to sink in even more is call “future pacing”. Have them think of several specific and varied future contexts or situations in which they want to act out the value. Have them vividly imagine what it would be like to act the value out in the future situation. Have them vividly imagine what the environment is like as well as who else would be there and their reactions. What this does is install the new value in future contexts so that when they get to that point in their future, their mind and body already know what to do.
Teaching proper values to our children is one of the most important and daunting tasks for parents to have. Because values by their very nature are general and fluffy, it is often very hard to get from the value to the hard core and specific behaviors that should emanate from the values—and everybody has different ideas about which behaviors are appropriate. That is why this series of processes works so well. It initially attaches to a value an ongoing experience that everybody can see, hear, and feel. The Logical Level integration spreads it into every part of the child’s life and the future pacing takes the values and programs them into the child’s future to ensure that the child will act out the values automatically and without even having to remember to do them.