Instilling Values in Preschoolers and Young Children
A few great values to instill in young children include empathy, generosity, gratitude, acceptance, and self-control.
• Research demonstrates that children who have developed strong empathy skills are less aggressive with their peers. Empathic children are able to understand another person’s feelings and point of view, as well as understand the impact of their behavior on others.
• Teach your child to understand his or her own emotions. This can be done by labeling your child’s feelings. For example, “You seem sad that you cannot find your favorite blanket”, or “You seem frustrated that the tower you are trying to build keeps falling down.”
• Teach your child to identify the feelings of others through observing facial expressions and interpreting social cues. For example, “She is smiling. I think she is happy that you decided to share with her” or “He is moving away from you right now. I think your tickling is starting to annoy him.”
• Play Feelings Games to help your child practice empathy skills.
o Feelings cards and posters can be purchased, or you can cut out faces from magazines that represent different emotions. Take turns expressing the feeling on the card by using facial expressions and body posture and movements.
o Encourage your child to consider the impact of his behavior on others. For example, “How do you think your teacher would feel if you gave her a card on her birthday?” or “How do you think your friend feels when you take his toy without asking?” Some children may need help with this. It may be helpful to first ask children how he would feel if these situations happened to them, and then consider if the other person might feel that way too.
• Giving to others can help children to foster a sense of responsibility to their community. This need not be monetary. Children can give of their time, effort, care, and love.
o Encourage your child to share his or her skills with others. If your child excels at sports, your child can help to teach a classmate. If your child is very verbal, he or she can sit down with a friend and “read” or describe the pictures in a book.
o Model for your child. For example, if your child’s school is sponsoring a food drive, get involved and help your child choose items to donate. Share time with your child and volunteer your time together to help an elderly neighbor who needs yard work done.
• Practicing being thankful for what one has helps to develop appreciation and gratitude, regardless of one’s financial situation.
• Children who practice being grateful for the non-material goods that they have are less inclined to view material goods as most important in life.
• Foster children’s gratitude by encouraging them to think about what they appreciate.
o At the end of your child’s day, review the day and ask him/her to consider and talk about his or her favorite part of the day, or what he or she enjoyed the most.
o Encourage your child to consider the people in his/her life for whom he/she is grateful. Suggest that he/she make a card expressing his appreciation for that person. This can be an “I Like You” card to a special friend at school or a special relative.
• Acceptance of differences in others helps to promote satisfying interpersonal relationships and improves school and social competence. Children are not born prejudiced or intolerant of others. Children can be encouraged not only to accept differences, but to celebrate them!
o Expose your child to opportunities to meet people of different cultures, religions, ages, and races. Encourage your child to ask questions, and it is OK if you do not have all of the answers.
o Encourage your child to talk about derogatory remarks that he/she has heard as well as hurtful stereotypes. Explain to him/her how these are harmful and hurt others’ feelings.
o In addition to celebrating others’ differences, talk to your child about how people are the same.
• Self-control is an emerging skill in young children. For some, self-control does not come easy, and these skills need to be taught. Children with self-control skills are more likely to have satisfying peer relationships.
o Help your child to recognize feelings of anger and frustration in his/her body (sweating, clenched fists, etc.) so that he can begin to do something about it. (Keep in mind that the message that you want to convey is that it is OK to feel angry, but it is not OK to act angry or aggressively).
o Teach your child calming down techniques. This can include imagining his favorite place, counting, and deep breathing. Practicing these techniques when your child is calm will increase his/her ability to utilize them when he/she is upset. Keep in mind that some children need “space” and time alone to calm down. Help your child to recognize if this is a need of your child.
o You are the greatest model for your child. Practice self-control and calming down techniques in front of your child, such as waiting in line, handling disappointments big and small, or being cut off in traffic.