How Do You Teach Children Values?


Despite the fact that I post my blog on Facebook daily, it is seldom that I scroll through Facebook to read other people’s postings. If I’ve missed yours, please don’t be offended. The issue is a time issue. When I’m in town, I leave for work by 6:00 a.m. and I get home way later than I should. When I tell people that my afternoon commute is at least two hours, they are in disbelief. Most people simply say: “You must be nuts. I’d never do that”. Fortunately, with the construction on Mopac almost completed, I’m hopeful that will soon change. However, there are days that the long drive home stretches into two and a half hours. Did I mention it shouldn’t take two hours to travel fifty-one miles?


Yesterday morning, when I posted my blog, a friend’s posting caught my attention. The message resonated with the values I was brought up to believe. It was an affirmation that everyone should be treated with value. The posting stated simply: “I was raised to treat the janitor with the same respect as the CEO”.


I smiled with the thought that if I had maid service at my hotel, I’d probably leave a tip on a freshly made bed. I’ll never voluntarily succumb to “going green” again in another hotel even if I choose to reuse my bath towel. The General convinced me that failure for the hotel to make up my bed on Tuesday morning was obviously an oversight or purposeful omission by folks with responsibility to clean and straighten the room. The omission was independent of my opting to go “green”. Of course, when she shared her wise counsel, I had already made up my bed before I left my hotel room. Yesterday morning, as a test to her theory, I left my bed unmade again. Guess what? I discovered when I returned to the hotel at the end of the day, “going green” is synonymous with: “You’ll find your room the way you left it when you return.” It must be true that pigs don’t clean up after themselves so if I want my room straight, I’d better leave it that way.


Getting back to the posting related to values, how do you teach them to children? The world in which I spent my childhood was very different from the world in which we now live. The community standards in the neighborhood were pretty much centered around: “Love of God, country and apple pie.” You were brought up with the expectation that everyone should be treated fairly, honesty was non-negotiable, teamwork was the best way to win a game, being kind to others was the golden rule and negative consequences were to be expected if you didn’t follow the rulebook.


Truthfully, I grew up in a world where everyone was pretty much on a level playing field. You didn’t see one person as more important than another. The plume line was: “You show respect to every adult. You say: “Yes ma’am” and “Yes sir” respectfully to the adults who asked a question for which the answer is “yes”. Compliments or acts of kindness were always responded to with a “Thank You”. If you failed to say “Thank you”, your parent prompted you with the question: “What do you say?”


How do you teach values to children? The best answer is role modeling values for your kids and explaining the things that resonate or have value for you. Children learn more from observation of the way you live rather than from any verbal messaging you provide. If you want your child to value the importance of telling the truth, make it a household expectation and role model it for them as well.


I guess I was slow to the “coming of age” discovery that not everyone plays by the same rulebook and shares the same values. Some folks see achieving their intended outcome as a worthy ambition of doing whatever it takes to accomplish it. From their perspective, it doesn’t matter if you lie, cheat or steal to accomplish your objective. The only thing important is crossing the finish line.


I once worked in an environment where the department head was of the mindset that the only thing important was winning. In the process, she orchestrated an environment of mistrust and self-promotion. Her definition of truth was relative to whatever it took to achieve one’s objective. Consequently, if you needed to lie, cheat or steal, do it carefully and try not to get caught were the unspoken marching orders. I opted out. That is not the rulebook I was brought up to respect or believe.


Recently, I talked with a friend who is a “jack of all trades”. The guy can do anything and he knows his way around computers like the back of his hand. In addition to his day job, he operated a computer repair shop. A lady’s computer had crashed and she needed it repaired quickly. He agreed to give it top priority.


He said, “I could tell from some of the stuff on her desktop that she was a religious lady. She obviously created church bulletins, bible studies, etc. That information was evident from what I found on her computer.” The thing that caught him by surprise was the way she handled the bad news he subsequently shared with her. Her computer could not be repaired and her documents were irretrievably lost. He said: “I’ve never been cussed out by anyone with the finesse or skill set demonstrated by this lady. I was shocked.”


When she finally said all there was to say and none of it was good, my friend responded: “I’m a little confused. First of all, I’ve never been talked to the way you’ve just talked to me. Secondly, aren’t you a religious lady? I did see evidence of that on your computer. Whether he verbalized it or not, the clear message was “something’s not quite right here.”


Attempting to correct the error of her ways, she brought him a homemade cake the following day. She also subsequently dropped off freshly baked cookies at his office. However, unlike her computer in which information was irretrievably lost, he clearly remembers the apparent disconnect.


If you want to teach kids values, you have to embrace and demonstrate the values you want for them.


I’ll close with a feel good story related to values. I don’t know who wrote it, but the story has been in my memory bank for a number of years. It obviously is a story from long ago. It is the story of a ten year old that went to a hotel coffee shop. When the waitress served his water, he asked: “How much is an ice cream sundae?” She responded: “Fifty cents”. He looked at his hand full of change, counted it out in his head and then  asked: “How much is a dish of just plain ice cream?” “Thirty-five cents” was her response. She was getting irritated with him. There was another table she needed to help. The little boy ordered a plain dish of ice cream. After he had paid his ticket and left the coffee shop, the waitress walked over to clean the table. Next to his empty dish of ice cream was two nickels and five pennies. He opted not to order the ice cream sundae because he wanted to leave a tip. He couldn’t do both. He opted to honor his server.

All My Best!





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