Editor’s note: Over the past several weeks, the Eyres have shared what they consider the best parenting ideas they have come across during their three decades of writing to and speaking with parents worldwide. Portions of this column have been previously published. See their previous columns on deseretnews.com.
We feel that the trouble with so much of what we call “parenting” is that it’s a defense rather than an offense. The “experts” all seem to be saying, “If you have this problem, try this solution,” or “If Johnny does this, you try that.” The old adage of the best defense being a good offense isn’t applied very much. Most parents really don’t have a plan.
If you ask a business manager or owner what his goals and plans are, he or she will hand you vision statements, sales targets, pro forma financials and show you his offense. But ask a parent about his family goals and plans and the answer is likely to be much more general, “To raise my kids,” “To keep them out of trouble,” “To have a happy family.” How impressed would you be if the business person answered his question that generally, “To have a nice company,” “To avoid going bankrupt.”
Parents, today more than ever, need clear and specific goals and plans for their families. We need an offense good enough that we’re not forced to constantly react and to rely always on our defense. We decided that the best plan was an organized and deliberate way to teach children the values that would protect them and maximize their chance for happiness.
In researching and writing our book "Teaching Your Children Values," we sought 12 values, one for each month of the year, that were universal, that virtually every parent would desire for their child and that, together, would create the kind of character in a child that would maximize his chance for a happy and productive life. We surveyed and questioned parents to come up with our list.
There are all kinds of simple and effective methods, techniques, stories, games and other ideas to teach each of these values to kids, but the most important and overriding method is simply to focus and concentrate on one single value each month, to make it the “value of the month” in your family and to look for opportunities (in everything from the media you watch to everyday situations) to talk about it and to point it out to your child. Assign one value to each month and when the year ends, start over (your 8-year-old is now 9 and will learn each value on a new level). Here is our family’s list:
• January: honesty
• February: courage
• March: peaceability
• April: self-reliance and potential
• May: self-discipline and moderation
• June: fidelity and chastity
• July: loyalty and dependability
• August: respect
• September: love
• October: unselfishness and sensitivity
• November: kindness and friendliness
• December: justice and mercy
Properly approached, this “values offense” is not some burden of “one more thing to worry about.” Quite the contrary: It’s a simplifier. It gives a parent one clear subject to concentrate on for the month rather than worrying about everything at once. It’s not a panacea, and it’s not something that has to be worked on every moment. But when an opportunity presents itself, such as when a parent is alone with a child in the car or in the kitchen, they mention the value and work on it with their children. The parent comments on their own need for the value and on how much it means to them. The effect is cumulative — a little better each month — a little better each year, building a base of shared and understood values that become a lifetime defense against the false values that threaten to swallow up our children and our families.
We've created a program of 12 monthly audio sets to accompany our list of values. Each set contains a parent's segment of methods, stories, games and other ideas to teach that value to different age children and a child’s segment where kids learn the value vicariously via an imaginative and musical adventure story. It’s called "Alexander’s Amazing Adventures" and is available at valuesparenting.com.
The bottom line is that children do not learn values or develop character by osmosis; they do so through the deliberate efforts and example of their parents.