As a father, I find great personal satisfaction in children who have adopted traditional values and live them in their lives. And there certainly cannot be many more difficult trials for a father than to watch his child depart from the fundamentals and find themselves unhappy and without moral boundaries.
I would never suggest that it is a father's (or a mother's) failure when a child goes wrong. I simply know too many great parents who have troubled children. But I have been around long enough to observe that a basic education in the key societal values, and behavior by parents that reinforce them, certainly help minimize the chances that children will go astray. Teaching and exemplifying values like honesty, loyalty, respect, unselfishness, courage, self-reliance, self-discipline and modesty is an important role for any father that hopes his children will grow up as responsible and contributing members of society.
Fathers who feel a commitment to teaching these fundamental values to their children should consider the following strategies.
Model basic values. There is no single better way to teach than by example. The values you value find their way into your daily life. So if you want to teach honesty, be honest. If you want your children to be giving and unselfish, find ways to show them that you accept those values.
Watch for teaching moments. In daily life, there are often many times you could initiate a values discussion as a value either plays out or doesn't on life's stage. If you are watching the evening news and see a story about someone who rushed into a burning building to save someone, you can talk about courage. "What would you have done in that situation, Kevin?" Or if you see a child at a local grocery store treating a parent or another adult disrespectfully, you can ask your child what went wrong in that situation. Look for opportunities, or what I call "teaching moments" to ask your child about the experience and share what you think is pertinent.
Share great stories. Over the years, we have built a library of stories and picture books in our home that teach values. Some books we have read over the years with our kids and that have become their favorites include:
- Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry (Courage)
- The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (Determination)
- Black Beauty by Anna Searle (Forgiveness)
- Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Friendship)
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (Generosity)
- Arthur and the Sword by Robert Sabuda (Integrity)
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (Truth)
- Freedom Train by Dorothy Sterling (Service)
Be consistent in discipline. Boundaries are important to children. As you apply family rules consistently and allow children to experience the consequences of their behavior, they will learn that bad choices have repercussions at home and in the real world. If you are inconsistent or protect them from negative consequences, they will learn that they can talk their way out of things and that the consequences of bad behavior can be avoided if they are clever enough.
Serve others together. Family service projects, like helping with Sub for Santa or weeding the elderly neighbor's flower bed, will help them see you in action in living the values you espouse. And simple courtesies like holding the door for a person in a wheelchair will help them learn to be unselfish and put the needs of others first.
Help them learn to stay with hard things. We have a daughter that excels at the piano. She loves music and was excited about learning to play the piano, and we really didn't even have to encourage her to practice much when she was learning. But when we saw that potential, we found a teacher who would really push her to achieve. There were certainly times she wanted to give up when she struggled with a particularly hard classical piece. But with our encouragement, she stuck with it and developed her playing to an entirely new level. I know that if we had just said, "Yes, honey, it is so hard. Maybe you could go back to the other teacher," she would never have felt the joy of really excelling at something tough.
Celebrate right behavior. As fathers, we are often quick to correct and slow to praise our children. So, in teaching values, we should not only correct behavior not in alignment with our values, we must reward behavior that exemplifies fundamental values. So when your child is honest even when it is hard, tell them how proud you are of them. When he or she is courteous or respectful to you or others, let them know it. The old adage that "there is no substitute for a good compliment" is never truer than in child-raising.
Share your stories. Look for times to share your experiences in living your values. Sometimes, without naming names, I have shared stories from my workplace about people who made good or poor ethical decisions and the consequences of those choices. Children, particularly the older ones, appreciate seeing how values apply in the adult world. So share your own stories and those you experience from others and help them see the application of timeless values in life.
Helping children see the value of your values is a role every father should play. Your efforts at shaping the people they become will be worth it. And, as life develops for all of us, whatever our experience, later in life we often find ourselves coming back to the values we learned as children. So take the time to teach and exemplify the values you have chosen for your life and then by word and example, let your children know how to find happiness in life through the application of fundamental human values.