Transferring Family Values to Kids — Intentionally!

family values - sticky notes suggesting different values - sorry, honest, share, traditions, union, generosity

Written by Lisa Ellen Bean

Lisa is a co-founder at Empowered 4 Growth, an ICF certified coach and a mom to two boys aged 10 and 8. She blogs to share her journey of learning about raising strong, resilient, and confident children in the 21st century. You can reach Lisa by email at lisa@empowered4growth.com.

February 20, 2021

Kids learn their values, beliefs, and moral ideals seemingly through osmosis as they grow up. As parents, sometimes we don’t see it right away but as our kids grow to be independent, and then to be adults those messages shine through.

Think about your own values. Chances are you can trace them back to experiences you had as a child and things your parents did and said repeatedly. There are probably many great things you learned, and maybe a couple that you wish you could unlearn!

As parents, we don’t often think about the values that we want to teach our kids, we just do it. Most often we pass down the same messages that we learned growing up.

Should we be more intentional about teaching values?

There is no clear answer here. The answer is ‘it depends’. It depends on whether you would characterize the values you were taught as things that are still a priority to you today.

For example, values can change drastically over generations.

  • Were you taught as a child, and do you still believe, that children should be seen and not heard?
  • Were you taught as a child, and do you still believe, that boys don’t cry?
  • Were you taught as a child, and do you still believe, that girls should help out around the house and take care of the smaller children?
  • Were you taught as a child, and do you still believe, that money is a scarce resource?

These are just four values or beliefs that past generation often thought were correct, but that much of this generation of parents have moved away from. This list could be much, much longer, and it’s certainly unique to each family.

But, as much as we might want to move away from messages and values of the past, it can be very hard to break the cycle of what we were taught. I personally, have had to bite my tongue to not repeat messages from the past such as “Don’t be a cry baby” or “Stop feeling sorry for yourself”.

Often these inconsistencies in what we were taught, versus what we believe become triggers for parents. We feel stress, anxiety, and anger when one of these triggers is pulled.

The best way to alleviate these triggers and to bring consistency to our family values is to increase our awareness, and that means being intentional in understanding what our values are and what they are not.

Your Personal Values

Family values - picture of inuk shuk, symbolizing balanceValues are one of those things that if you look at a pre-existing list of potential values, they all sound good. So, how do we best go about narrowing down the values that are most important to you and your family?

There are two ways that I have found success, and often they complement each other.

The first way to go about determining your values tends to be more accurate, however it requires some deeper thought and introspection. To make this easier, you may choose to work with a coach who is trained to help you explore your values and who can devote one or more sessions to this.

You can also ask yourself questions such as:

  • What are three things that happened over the past week that made me happy or proud?
  • When have I been most happy in life?
  • What achievement or experience am I most proud of in my life?
  • When have I been most afraid and what do I fear the most?
  • What in my past am I most ashamed of?
  • What situations trigger my anger and why?

Analyze each situation. What was happening in and around to evoke these powerful memories and feelings? Ultimately, you are looking to pull out themes that tell you a lot about your own personal values based on what was important to you about these life events.

Depending on how far you get with the above first method you may move choose to try out the second exercise. For this, simply look at a list of values, and force yourself to narrow the list down to five or less values that have the most importance to you.

Don’t choose values that you think you should have, instead choose values that you do have and that you do demonstrate.

You should be able to come up with at least three or more stories of how you lived a value if it is true to you.

Your Family Values

Now you have a pretty good idea of your own personal values, but how do you knit these into a picture of your family values when there are multiple people involved.

Ideally you and your partner(s) in parenting are each going through this exercise and can have open and honest conversations about your individual values. Sit down to talk about:

  1. What your individual values are.
  2. Which of these is important to instill into your family?
  3. What beliefs and values were you raised with, that you do not want to carry forward to your own family?
  4. How can you live these values in your daily life, and with your family and children?

Once you and your partner have discussed this, it’s time to bring the kids into the discussion. Tell them about the values and beliefs that are important to you to live by as a family. Ask them for their input, questions, and any additions they might have.

Family discussions are the cornerstone of intentional family values.Family values - hands in the middle of an outline of a  family

Intentionally Building Family Values

For any new family values that you would like to adopt it can take time and intentional action to make them a habit. This is particularly true if multiple people are coming together to honor each other’s values.

Here are some of the ideas that we’ve worked on with families and that have worked for them:

  • Create a family mission statement, which includes your values and how you will live by them. Post it somewhere visible for all to see. Reflect on them regularly and evaluate how you are doing with against them during family time.
  • As you think about each value, come up with a common phrase or a quote that you might say regularly to remind you or family members about that value. For example, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”, or, “If so and so jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge?” Find what works for you to remind you of the value and repeat it often.
  • Determine actions or family experiences that bring out that value. For example, if your family value is ‘adventure’, make sure you have lots of adventures in your calendar over the year, and verbally point out the times when spontaneous adventures happen.
  • Recap your alignment with your values weekly, annually, or monthly. It can be a fun connection event to go around the table and tell a story about something you did that aligned to one family value or another.

Values define who we are and who we desire to be. Family values bond us together as one unit. We can work as a family from a common creed and also can still allow and respect individual values on top of those that are held as a family.

Values are deeply rooted, and childhood plays such an important role in their development. When our values are intentional and in alignment, both as a family and personally, we are more motivated, happier, satisfied, and energized.

If you haven’t given intentional family values much thought before, I hope this article has helped you to do so.

If you would like some help getting started on determining your personal or family values I invite you to register for a complimentary first coaching session, where we can dig deep, gain clarity and create an action plan for you.

Now, it’s your turn: What is one value that runs deep in your family?

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