The real legacy that most parents want to leave their children is the legacy of values.
We want our kids to have character and to care. We want them to grow into honorable, dependable, responsible people.
But getting them to live by our values, or manipulating them to adopt the values we think are right or best, will not cut it. There will be no sustainability.
Ultimately, our children will live by their values, and the ultimate key to successful parenting is to help them find ownership of the values that will make their lives as full and as fulfilling as possible.
We have had a little experience with this challenge — not only with our own children, but with the millions of parents we have reached with our New York Times No. 1 best-seller "Teaching Your Children Values." Let us tell you a little of the story of that book, which we have shared in a previous column, and focus on the central idea that made it successful.
We were having family dinner at home one evening when the call came from Oprah Winfrey’s senior producer. Oprah liked our new book, she said. She asked if we could come to Chicago in two weeks to be on the show.
“Bring your kids,” she said, and we assumed they would love sitting in the studio audience and watching the five- or 10-minute segment we would do on the show.
The kids (we brought seven of them) loved the stretch limo ride from the airport to The Drake hotel on the day before the show, and it wasn’t until we got the message envelope at the front desk that we realized that: 1. We would be on with Oprah for the full hour; and 2., so would the kids.
Panic set in. A full hour on a live show that reached 20 million people, talking about parenting, with our kids right up there with us, some of whom had never in their lives gone 10 minutes without some kind of fight with a sibling. Teaching children values? Right! How about the value of drugging them before we went on air?
But fortune smiled on us. Maybe they were mesmerized by the bright lights, but they all behaved reasonably well and even answered Oprah’s questions with enthusiasm and aplomb. Two weeks later, the book hit No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.
So here’s the point: Oprah liked the book for the same reason as the parents who bought it. It was a simple system. It took 12 universal values and set up a pattern where families focused on one value a month. The book had “months” instead of chapters. Parents found that by concentrating on one value for a whole month, they could really teach it. The book laid out methods for each age group, and with the “value of the month” on their minds, families would find illustrations of it (or the lack of it) in everything from TV shows to real-life situations with friends.
We didn’t fully realize it at the time, but the conscious, willful adoption of a specific value each month can lead to real ownership of that value by children. Being focused and trying to apply a particular value consistently and conscientiously for a full month gives a familiarity and commitment to the value. And parents pointing out its benefits and applications can ingrain the value into the mind of a child. The values are repeated each year so they are reinforced and further enhanced over and over as years pass and as children grow to grasp them on deeper and deeper levels.
The book is still in print and available in bookstores and online, but you can also review the values and their methods for free at www.valuesparenting.com
Richard and Linda are the founders of Joyschools.com and New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or at www.valuesparenting.com.