In a material world, children must learn values at home

By Debbie Glasser Schenck

Helping children develop a sense of values is one of the most important roles of parenting. Children need to value themselves and others for who they are, rather than what they have. This is a critical lesson of childhood that cannot be taught in a day or even a year. It is a process that begins at birth and evolves over a lifetime.

Children view powerful and enticing advertising from an early age. They are growing up in a society that values status symbols. They live in a culture that often associates success with material objects. This is tough competition for parents who want to teach their children that there is more to life than an expensive pair of sneakers.

Parents should look carefully at their own behavior. What are your values and how do you communicate them to your children? Teach your children about the importance of counting blessings. At the dinner table, for example, share some of the things you are grateful for in your life, and encourage them to do the same. Talk about how rich your life is because of the relationships you have with special family members and friends. Give specific examples of how a special friend helped bring joy to your week with a phone call.

Ask your kids to describe what is special and unique about each of their friends. Encourage them to talk about friend's personalities and interests rather than their things. When your child says he feels another child is lucky because of the size of his house, ask him what it is about a larger house that would make someone lucky. Use this opportunity to engage in dialogue about his beliefs. Talking to him in an open, nonjudgmental way can allow you to gain insights into his beliefs and enable you to share yours as well.

Children often associate good feelings with obtaining material goods. Teach them how wonderful it feels to give to others. Find opportunities for your children to participate in a service project in the community. Set an example by getting involved too. There are a number of volunteer organizations that welcome families to work together at beach cleanups of food drives.

Many children do want to get that new toy like their friend down the street has. They will see advantages to having a larger bedroom. Acknowledge that these may be nice to have, and express your happiness for the friend with the new game or the bigger house. At the same time, find opportunities in your daily life to remind your child, through your words and your behavior, that the most important things in life cannot be bought.

Also see:
Getting your kids to cooperate
Positive thinking for kids
How parents can change child's "poor sport" attitude

Debbie Glasser Schenck, Ph.D., is the director of Fanily Support Services at Nova Southeastern University.