Teaching Your Children Values is based on the premise that one of the most enriching gifts parents can give their children is a strong sense of personal values. Authors Linda and Richard Eyre, parents to nine children themselves, are the co-authors of several parenting books as well as co-hosts of a radio programme and television show dedicated to enhancing parenting. This book, an international best seller and #1 on The New York Times best-seller list, presents a practical, proven, month-by-month program of games, family activities, and value-building exercises for kids of all ages.
A boat without a paddle
From the outset, the Eyres declare that raising children without values is akin to putting them in “a boat without a paddle” (13). They define values as “the standards of our actions and the attitudes of our hearts and minds that shape who we are, how we live, the choices we make, and how we treat other people” (15). Accordingly, they believe that helping children develop values such as honesty and self-reliance is as important a part of their education as teaching them to read or how to cross the street safely.
The authors warn parents to be mindful of the “false values [that] are persuasively taught nearly everywhere else” and encourage them to commit themselves to teaching “true values […] even more powerfully in the home” (8). These values parents that teach their children are after all the best protection from the negative influences of peer pressure and the temptations of consumer culture. If parents can define their own family culture with its corresponding values, children can learn to make informed decisions on their own, rather than simply mimicking their friends or what they view in the media.
Parenting by Objective
The book is built on the concept of “parenting by objective”, which involves focusing and concentrating on a particular value or principle for an entire month (19). Years ago, author Richard Eyre worked as a management consultant, teaching his business clients to improve their company’s performance by practising “management by objective”. “Management by objective” is grounded in the understanding that people are always more effective when they have clear goals to strive toward. Eyre has applied this same principle to one of the most important management challenges of all – the management of families.
In the book, “parenting by objective” is exemplified by the “value of the month” approach in which parents are taught to focus their attention and effort on one basic value each month. This simplifies parenting and helps parents concentrate on something positive and concrete that can make a difference to their children’s lives. The authors suggest that one of the biggest problems parents have is that too often they are just reacting to what their children do, instead of assuming responsibility for the situation, taking control, and becoming proactive parents. This kind of “defensive strategy of reacting to children and their behaviours” is caused by a lack of clear or specific objectives for parenting (19). However, when parents have clear goals in mind in terms of what they want to teach their children, they will feel inspired to act, take initiative, and gain control of their family’s destiny.
Who we are and what we do
Teaching Your Children Values classifies values into two main categories: values of being (who we are) and values of giving (what we do). Divided into twelve monthly teachable values, the book covers a lot of ground, comprising values of honesty, courage, peaceability, self-reliance, self-discipline, fidelity and chastity, loyalty, respect, love, unselfishness, kindness, and justice. Each chapter begins with a definition of each value, examining it alongside funny and relatable anecdotes that involve the authors’ children. The authors then provide some general guidelines for teaching each value that are applicable to children of all ages, before delving into age-specific strategies. Certain themes recur in the guidelines for the different values: parents must role-model the value they seek to teach and provide positive affirmation and praise when children display those values.
Making values learning interactive and fun
The Eyres believe that fun and interactive games — the cornerstone of teaching values — can be used with children from a very young age. One game they propose is the Synonyms and Antonyms Game, in which children are asked to think of synonyms and antonyms for specific values. Other games include the Role-Playing Game, where children learn to put themselves into others’ shoes to better understand the impact of their actions of others, and the Pantomime Game, which requires children to pantomime the actions (gestures, facial expressions, etc.) associated with the word on the card they pick. This game helps children to cultivate emotional intelligence by identifying honest emotions – in themselves and in others – and to know that it is okay to feel and to talk openly about these emotions.
However, by the time children reach adolescence, the authors recommend that parents engage in more in-depth discussions of various situations to allow teens to reflect thoughtfully about possible consequences of behaviours. The Eyres highlight the importance of teaching children, particularly adolescents, about consequences, because in many cases, consequences can be life-changing. For example, adolescents should be made aware of what can happen if they drink and drive or have unprotected sex.
The authors remind parents that value teaching is not a one-off activity but a process that requires their commitment and dedication. Value teaching must occur throughout the child’s developmental stages: “When a year ends, the values sequence should start over, and each child, now a year older, learns each value again on a different level” (8). By being consistent with their teaching, parents will ensure that values are deeply inculcated and reinforced through various life experiences as the child transitions from adolescence all the way to adulthood.
An ideal adaptive parenting resource
Teaching Your Children Values is an ideal parenting resource for Singaporean parents who live in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society. As the authors steer clear of imposing religious or moral values that may polarize or divide people, they have successfully expanded their target audience to diverse communities. The book will appeal to secular families who want to have a proactive plan for helping their children develop a strong ethical foundation and will likewise be embraced by religious families who can adapt the principles to various religious teachings.
At the same time, the authors have taken care to emphasize that while the book contains the twelve values that are “universally acceptable, applicable and adaptable, each parent must [ultimately] decide which values to teach” (8). This approach helps to empower individual parents to think critically about their own life philosophies while giving them the appropriate guidance to carve out a family infrastructure of their own.
This book is available at Singapore’s public libraries. Search for it here.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.