How to Teach Your Toddler Important Values in Life
Before I first drove to Toronto to meet Marc’s parents, I had heard of the famous bathrooms at the Boiron house. Marc had forewarned me about the walls, but the sight still took me by shock when I first walked into the bathroom. Practically every inch the wall, with the exception of any surfaces that may get wet from the sink or the shower, was covered with pieces of paper. On the pieces of paper were quotes and proverbs about values that my father-in-law wants his family members to learn, remember, and practice in their lives.
While I am not big on decorating my walls with printer paper full of quotes, I do believe that it’s never too early to start teaching your kids values. Values are what build their characters, and your kids need a healthy, strong foundation to shape the rest of their lives. However, teaching toddlers values is not easy because well, they are toddlers. Some days I am happy enough to get through the day without any tantrums. Therefore, to teach toddlers important values in life, you need a plan.
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Make a list
Take the time and sit down with your significant other to make a list of the values you want to teach your toddler. Some may be obvious, like “be respectful” or “be honest,” but you would be surprised once you start the discussion how your opinions may differ. For example, I brought up “be humble,” but Marc argued that he rather his children be arrogant than worrying about hiding what they worked so hard to achieve. You and your significant other need to speak with one voice to your toddler to avoid confusion. Therefore, before you do any teaching, create a list with values that you both agree on. I would recommend keeping the list concise to no more than a dozen values so that you can focus on the important ones.
Be good role models.
Ever cursed in front of your toddler and now his/her favorite word is that curse word? Ever made an angry face at your toddler when you are mad and find yourself looking at the same expression minutes later during a tantrum? You and your spouse are role models for your children because they look up to you and want to be you. Therefore, be on your best behavior at all times around toddlers because they are masters at imitation. One pet peeve of mine is hearing parents make empty threats. They would yell at their children, “If you don’t do blah blah blah, then we are going home!” But the children know that they are not going home even if they continue to behave badly because the parents are not going to actually pick up everything and head home when they are at a wedding, at a birthday party, or even at a park. Then the same parents lecture their toddlers for being dishonest. HMM… I wonder where they got the idea from?
Talk to them about values.
Yes, I know they are toddlers, but they can understand more than you think. So instead of letting them watch TV or play on the iPad during dinnertime, use that time to have a meaningful conversation about values. Use everyday experiences as examples to help explain the values. For example, today we went to an event that gave out these mini UPS trucks. My son got there too late and all the trucks were gone and of course, he was really sad. One of his friends who took an extra one for his brother decided to give my son his extra one instead to cheer him up. Later in the day, we use this incident as an opportunity to talk to our son about kindness and empathy.
Praise demonstration of values.
When your toddler demonstrates good values, reinforce the values by applauding and praising your toddler. We make a huge deal every time my son shows kindness to his sister, like sharing his toys with her when she is in a bad mood. We hurrah and clap like we are in a cheerleading squad when my son showed persistence and refused to give up and conquered the rock-climbing wall. Positive reinforcements go a long way, especially for toddlers who are always seeking attention and approval from their parents.
Let them learn from their mistakes.
Every action we take has consequences, and we need to let our toddlers make mistakes so they can learn from them. If they steal something from the store, for example, don’t just lecture them on how stealing is bad and let them keep whatever they stole. Drive them back to the store to return the item. If your toddler does not persevere and gives up while doing a puzzle, don’t solve it for them. Guide them and encourage them instead. If you don’t let the toddlers own up to their own mistakes and, instead, cover for them, then they will depend on you to make up for any shortcomings and in the end, blame you for bad consequences when things go wrong.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
The concept behind the wall of quotes is that repetition works. If you see the quote and read the quote every day, multiple times a day, it’s bound to stick in your head. Even though you may not actively think it during normal conversations, it’s lingering in your subconscious somewhere, influencing your decisions. Since our toddlers probably cannot read at this time, we will need to be verbal with our values. We may sound like a broken record at the end of the day, but they will have the values stuck in their heads. Come on, admit it, how many times have you said, “My mom always said…”
Read books about values.
My son is a bookworm, so if all fails, I turn to books. There are many cute books out there that teach toddlers good values, such as The Rainbow Fish, The Berenstain Bears and the Truth, and Llama Llama Time to Share. Sometimes, however, I find my son disinterested in books that are a little too direct and obvious when it comes to teaching values. So instead, I turn to fables – short, fictitious stories that convey a simple, clear moral at the end. The famous ones are The Tortoise and the Hare, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and The Ants and the Grasshopper. I love reading my toddler fables because: 1) They are short, so we will always get to the end of the story before his attention span runs out, and 2) They are great for starting a conversation with my toddler about values. After each fable, you can ask your toddler, “So what did we learn?” and help guide them to the moral of the story.
One of the quotes my husband will always remember is, “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” Our toddlers’ lives have just started. However, you want to make sure that they can start their lives running toward happiness and success. In order to do so, we need to take time out of our busy lives and have deep, meaningful conversations with our toddlers about values. They are not too young to start learning about values – you may be surprised at how much they understand and retain at such a young age. Spend the time to really observe your toddler and see what values they already embody and what values still need to be reinforced. And as always, when teaching your children, you may learn a thing or two about your own values in the process.
What values are the most important to you that you want your toddler to learn?