There is only one way to imbibe values in our children, by modelling them. Leading by example is the most important and most effective way to teach values to children. Parents are a child’s best friends as well as role models. What they see in us, they emulate. It is almost impossible to get children to wholeheartedly do what we as parents ourselves don’t believe and follow. So, whatever be your family and cultural values, you model them first.
Now, when you model behaviour it is not yet clear to the children why you do what you do. This is why, it is important to have a conversation regularly on the importance of values. Let’s call it the viveka method. Without understanding, it simply becomes psychological conditioning. It is important that we compliment our actions with clear words or concepts to encapsulate the value.
We can take a specific value like ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence and discuss it’s various facets with her. We can talk about its different forms like not hurting others in thought, speech or behaviour. The consequence of it and how it is hard to undo. We can also discuss it’s causes. We can discuss examples from real life that they can relate to. And finally we can ask them to summarise their understanding of it.
I use my evening walks with Aanya sometimes to discuss values and it’s amazing how interesting the questions and conversations can get. As parents you end up learning many new things too.
The second method is the Sankalpa method or autosuggestion. It’s psychological technique where in individuals guide their own thoughts, feelings or behaviour. This can be done in a couple of ways. One way is to get children to say positive affirmations. When they repeatedly suggest to themselves, the values behind the affirmations get reinforced.
These affirmations can evolve as they grow. For eg. You can change or upgrade them each year as your child grows. Affirmations can also be recited when they start the day or retire to bed. The other way is get our children to make resolutions or set targets for the day or a week and at the end of it, evaluate and say for themselves how they did. This also helps them learn introspection.
The third method is called satsanga method. This doesn’t mean you send your children to attend religious discourses. It means you make occasions for them to be in an environment or amongst people who also model these values. Children have a sharp sense of awkwardness and hence anything that we tell them that may feel socially awkward is not welcome.
Fourth method is called pratipaksha bhavana and it involves neutralising of negative values by deliberately practising the corresponding positive value. This method is more of a last resort or let’s say second last resort. It is especially applicable for adults who have a lot of prior negative conditioning that needs to be reversed. In this method, anger can be addressed by practicing patience, miserliness can be countered by practicing acts of generosity, arrogance can be countered by practicing humility, jealousy by deliberate appreciation, and so on. It basically follows the policy of fake it, till you make it. I hope it’s not so late to resort to this method.
Last and final method that I suggest here is really our ultimate last resort. It’s called Prarthana or prayer. Whichever higher power we believe in, we pray to it that we are graced by these virtues as we find ourselves impossible to inculcate them by ourselves.
All these methods are not my own invention and are things I have learnt from my teacher, or Guru , Swami Paramarthananda who taught me the importance of nurturing and teaching values.
Feel free to use one or more of these methods to complement the primary one, for which there is no alternative. Let’s first live the values that we expect our children to value. That’s the best way to teach them the value of values.