Children take their cues from us as they move through the world. For parents who want to raise good, virtuous children, that means displaying the values that matter to you in your day to day life. But while you can try to lead by example, children will need those lessons explicitly taught to them as well. It’s important to instill certain behaviors and values early in order to help your child develop lifelong good habits and values. Here are some values you can work on instilling in your child before the age of 5.
Children can, for the most part, appear to be inherently selfish. It makes sense that they’re used to that - for the majority of their early life, they will only be conscious of and able to communicate their own needs and desires, and they’re completely dependent on you to do everything for them.
Teaching your child about fairness early on can help them learn about a myriad of issues in the future, including taking on their share of responsibility, sacrificing immediate satisfaction for the benefit of somebody else and being considerate towards the feelings of others.
You can teach your child about fairness when you establish clear rules for giving everyone similar access to resources and activities and encourage your child to do the same. Teach your five-year old to divide toy time with her sibling rather than hoard her goods, and remind her that including others equally makes them feel better.
Hand in hand with fairness is kindness, which you should also instill in your child as early as possible. While fairness can be about equal compromise for all parties, kindness often requires spontaneous, non-reciprocal sacrifice. Demonstrate kindness to your child through your actions by leading a generous life - donating your time, effort or funds to organizations that do good, hold open the door for people, have positive and uplifting conversations about people in the world around you.
Teach your child about saying nice things and not insulting people needlessly. Talk to her about going out of her way to help others and not expecting something in return, the value of putting out good actions just to improve the lives of others. Kindness for kindness’ sake will help your child treat others respectfully and see the world through nicer eyes.
Children figure out relatively quickly - between 3 and 4 years old - that lying can sometimes provide immediate benefits. By the age of 2 or 3, children have developed enough awareness to tell primary lies, or lies that are untrue but unconvincing, and by the age of 4 they’re beginning to master lying with a convincing explanation. Teach your child about the value of honesty early in order to curb this behavior and explain the potential consequences.
It’s important to talk to your child about what happens to you and to her when she lies to you. It’s also important that you avoid confusing your child by changing the rules up frequently. If you’re trying to communicate that lying is bad, avoid lying in front of your child when you talk to others. They’re listening, and they notice when things you say don’t match up with reality.
Rather than telling your child about white lies, work on avoiding lying when possible, even to others. Then, talk to your child about why you do that. Mention that lying to deceive people can hurt them if or when they find out, that it can be difficult to conceal and that most problems are better addressed head-on than hidden.
Another value - but certainly not the last - you should teach your child early is willpower, or the ability and determination to get things done. Kids are impatient, unskilled and just learning how to navigate the world. If you’re thinking of leaving a legacy that will help your child navigate the adult world, this is the value to impart. They’re going to struggle to accomplish tasks. However, it’s important to teach them to value that struggle, rather than enable them to give up and ask for help whenever they’re doing anything.
Parents have to strike a balance between being supportive and being overbearing - children who are allowed to struggle, fail and complete tasks on their own will learn the process of sticking with something difficult and accomplishing their goals more readily than children who give up early and abandon projects out of frustration. Don’t interrupt and don’t discourage - let your child learn for herself that trying over and over again can yield results. Teaching your child values means displaying those values in your day to day life. While some concepts may seem too adult for your children, it’s never too early to show them what a person with good values looks like.