By Dianna Flett
Okay, back to business. In the next few blogs, I’ll share how we talk to the girls about values. It is a great conversation to have now that we have some time on our hands and before we consider our reentry to school.
Let’s start with a question many children are asked frequently.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I know when the boys were little that was often a part of conversations with friends and family. We’ve switched that conversation up a bit in Girl Smarts. We help our girls think about “who” they want to be vice “what” they want to be when they grow up. It is a bit of a play on words, but that’s our introduction into our workshop on values-based decision making. In my next two blogs, I’ll lay out some steps for you to talk to your children about this pretty useful concept.
Explain the concept of values
To help your children understand values-based decision making, they first have to understand what values are and how they will play into their lives. It’s a pretty big concept to consider when you are only in fourth or fifth grade, but as one girl said after our workshop, “You make this all seem so easy.”
What are values? Values are the internal feelings of right and wrong we use to help us make a choice or decision we can be comfortable with. They help guide us to action. By age 5, most children have developed a sense of right and wrong largely based on what they’ve learned from their families. That sense becomes their inner voice. We help them understand that their inner voice is often the basis of their values system.
The girls initially confuse things of value, their iPhones or iPads, with the type of internal values we want them to consider. We ask them if they remember doing something they knew was wrong and feeling uncomfortable. They always do. If they feel uncomfortable with something, we explain it is often because they are going against their values system.
I remember being with my father when I was a young girl. I was probably 5 years old. We went into a store in Bluefield, Virginia, and he tried to buy me a gum ball. Twice the machines took his penny and didn’t return the promised treat. I was quite sad because I thought it was so indulgent to pay a penny and get a sweet from a machine. I remember I had on a green shift dress with a red, apple-shaped pocket. While we were in line to pay for our few groceries, I slipped a piece of bazooka gum into my pocket and we left the store. I justified stealing by thinking that daddy had paid for the gum and not gotten it from the machines.
In the car, my dad saw me chewing gum and asked how I’d gotten the treat.
“I found a penny on the floor and was able to use it to buy the gum,” I lied.
The guilt and shame I felt from that lie and the act stealing the gum grew inside me. It went against everything my parents had taught me. Soon it felt like I was carrying around a 50-pound sack of wrongdoing. Finally, about two weeks later, I confessed to my mother that I’d stolen the piece of gum and lied to my father. I cried, and cried as I confessed, trying to get out from under that sack I was carrying around. It was crushing me.
I know now my values were screaming at me to own up and, once my secret was out, I could relax back into a safer place. I look back at my youthful and relatively innocent actions of stealing and lying about the gum, and I still feel unsettled at the memory. Perhaps you have a story you can share to relate your own values misstep to your children from when you were young, it will help them understand.
Share how values impact our routine actions and help others see who we are. This is an important first step to talking about trust in your family dynamic.
Ask the children what things they do every day. You can write them down on a piece of paper. The list might look like this:
- “I brush my teeth.”
- “I walk the dog.”
- “I feed the cat.”
You can follow through the day with their actions and then talk to them about how their values impact those actions. The discussion that follows should revolve around why those things are important.
- “I brush my teeth because I value my health and my ability to care for myself.”
- “I walk, or feed, the dog because I value his comfort, and I know it’s one of my responsibilities as a member of the family.”
Now ask: “What changes if you tell me you brush your teeth but you actually don’t?”
Let the conversation play out with them in a guiding way. You can also flip it and ask: “What if I tell you I’m going to do something and I don’t.”
Help them use feeling words about the impact of broken promises. We have to show a clear link with our actions at the everyday level and our values to help our children connect the dots for themselves. What we say should line up with what we do. It defines our character and is important to feeling good about ourselves; the old “actions speak louder than words” expression.
If you’d like, this initial conversation can further segue into a conversation about trust:
“We have to trust that when we say something to one another, we’re being true to your word. When I say something to you, I want you to trust me too. I value trust in our relationship.”
In the second part of this series, I’ll give you a list of the values we use with the girls and a smaller list to help them identify and understand what values they think guide their actions. It’s an eye opening discussion, or at least it was in our family.