Regardless of an individual’s or family’s religious beliefs, we all want to raise our children with a strong moral foundation. Parenting is a tough job. You can trust it’s going to be a little ‘trial and error’. There’s also a whole lot of ‘leading by example’ to help your child learn to become a responsible, caring, resilient and happy adult.
We know children are sponges and soak in everything they are exposed to; whether positive or negative. Helping children identify the difference between the positive and negative influences they encounter in the media, online, at school, from friends etc, will enable them to choose people and experiences that will benefit them and their future selves.
Developing a moral compass takes time. It’s the result of the outcome or consequences of the choices made every single day, no matter how small those decisions may seem. Each small act, is part of the larger picture and becomes part of their moral fibre. Reinforcing how important making the right decision is – is so important, because each of them, will ultimately determine the person they will become.This is where faith and values can help.
How does teaching my child about faith and values help?
In a recent McCrindle survey, “99% of Australians believe it is important to teach values to Australian school students’”. Additionally, more than four in five (84%) believe that Christian heritage has been influential in shaping the values that we teach children.
I was born into a religious family, so I knelt in personal prayer morning and night. We prayed at the dinner table and we went to church on Sunday. I also attended scripture study classes daily and attended conferences, camps and events with the church community I was part of. Even though I’m no longer active in the practice of my faith, I would still consider myself a spiritual person. I am very grateful for the lessons I learned, the faith and values I was raised with, and the friends and examples I had throughout my childhood and adolescence.
After being assigned numerous talks in Sunday meetings, I learned public speaking. I also learned it through reading the scriptures aloud in a group setting, becoming a Sunday school teacher and preparing lessons for my class.
There was also a camping program I participated in and could ace ‘Survivor’ with the skills I picked up. On top of this, I participated in a personal development program in my youth which centred around the values of faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works and integrity. Undertaking service projects and activities to develop these qualities in myself has shaped who I am today.
I remember one ANZAC Day, as a teenager, I was serving a returned serviceman during a diggers breakfast. He said he wanted to meet my parents, “because they must be pretty special considering how I turned out. They did a good job of raising you”. This meant the world to me. There is no better feeling than knowing ‘you are doing life right’. It was also a reminder that my actions were a reflection not just of ourselves, but our families.
What is spirituality and what are the benefits of Faith?
Regardless of whether you practice religion or not, we can all be ‘people of love’, ‘people of faith’ and ‘people of values’. Your children may ask why their friends attend church and you don’t? Be open in your response, you could explain that ‘churches, synagogues and mosques are places where people are able to worship formally. It’s a place to do this with a community of other people who believe the same things they do. Some people feel you can find ‘God’ anywhere – in nature or even in your bedroom! That’s what prayers are for.’ But it’s also important to remind our children that every family is different. Remind them that is okay and all choices are equally valid.
Associate professor of psychology Lisa Miller states; “when it comes to spirituality, we parents are just our kids’ ambassadors. We can show them around, but we don’t need to know everything.”
In her research she found that children who develop a sense of a “loving higher power or a guiding force – whether they call it God, the creator, Allah or simply ‘universe’ – are 50 percent less likely to suffer from substance abuse as teens and 80 percent less likely to suffer major depression. Another study found that children who are ‘spiritual’, tend to be happier individuals overall. Having a sense of something greater than themselves, enhanced their personal sense of meaning and purpose. It also reinforced their connections to other people and their community.
What is a Value?
Values are both what you hold dear and what you think it’s important to be. Family, education, democracy and equal rights are examples of things you may ‘hold dear’. Compassion, honesty, hard-working and kind are all important qualities ‘to be.’ Overall, parents are the primary source for children’s values. So, if you haven’t thought about what your values are, it may be time to identify them for yourself and also for your family.
Teaching Children Values
Every day presents opportunities to teach children about values. When you notice a desirable value in action – point it out. Do this whether your child is the person doing it, or someone you are observing. The funny thing about having a quality is – you also learn how to recognise it in others. Helping children discern the kinds of people they want to have in their lives. The most important lesson though is being the kind of person that you would want to spend time with.
Values are present in even the fairy tales/ stories you read with your children. Ask your child what they ‘learned’ in the book. It could be that the good guy won, but only after a few hardships or failures. Or the principle of ‘reaping what you sow’- or in other words, ‘getting what you give.’ Another valuable lesson and running theme is that of the need for love in a person’s life (giving and receiving.)
Psychologist, Sherrie Campbell identified seven values to raising exceptional children. You may like to take these on as your values, or add a few of your own. Her list included teamwork, self-care, seeing possibilities where others see problems, motivation, time management, accepting responsibility and kindness.
Helping children believe in something ‘bigger than themselves’, and live up to – helps them ‘think big’ for themselves and become the best version of who they are.
It also helps them believe there is something ‘very powerful’ in their corner. This in turn gives them greater faith in their own abilities, and power when they feel vulnerable. Leaning into that in times of crisis has indeed, helped many people overcome great hardships, myself included. Yes. our values and beliefs may change throughout our lives, but the foundation for who we will become starts when we are born, and with you.
Story By Bec Dent
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