Can we teach Values? Some Myths

Our action and child’s experience set a child to form an opinion of good and bad. Let’s empower the children to define their values for themselves based on their times.

A man came to a mystic and asked for a formula for life. The mystic replied, “You take this and you do that and you get something” The man was confused, “But that’s true for everything”. The mystic smiled, “You only asked for a formula”. The man sighed, “But how do I apply it in life”. The mystic embraced him, “The ‘applying’, dear, is life”

Myth 1 – We can teach values.

Historically, lectures by parents and moral books have been two mains sources of teaching values. Result is that every successive generation feels that the next generation is low on values.

I see articles popping up everywhere that as a society we have become unkind. Some say we are not teaching enough kindness. I would say, children already ‘know’ kindness – its time we understood it – on a daily basis, making them aware of how we, they and others are kind-unkind, creating elaborate discussions without any right or wrong and through this they will develop their understanding.

Bottom line: We cannot teach values, we can only make children aware of them through our actions.

Myth 2 – We cannot teach values.

While we cannot teach values, children are always learning them – seeing how we operate in our real life. A mother slaps her child because she is irritated, then goes ahead and teaches the child to take care of others and never hit others. Does this mean that we need to be 100% kind for children to learn kindness. No, I am not proposing that we become some perfects models – but we realise that each of our own act of unkind behaviour is as much an opportunity to learn the value. So, instead of role models, we consider our actions being the source of learning 😉

Bottom line: Children can learn more from our actions then our lectures.

Myth 3 – There are some universal values which I must teach to my children.

There is only one thing that’s universal and that is change. Rest is contextual – You see, it depends! Yes, there are some common values like kindness, honesty, trust, but show me a human who hasn’t deviated from these values as per situation. So much for them being universal.

Lets be kind to children. Let them not grow in the burden or guilt that they have done something wrong by being unkind. Let them reflect back on their choice of behavior in the context of situation – not to justify and defend, but to understand.

Bottom line: Let’s help children realize the value of a value in their life and their times (which is different from our life and our times).

Myth 4 – Negative Values are not acceptable.

Greed is not good. But what if that makes me work harder! Oh, in that case we will call it ambition! Since values can be subjective, negativity itself is subjective. If it works for me, I keep it.

If I have been unkind – can I be accepted for that. Can my teachers and parents, help me look deeply into how it helped me by being unkind. Once the reason / intention of the behavior is acknowledged, then I am ready to explore other more kind ways of behaving.

Bottom line: Let’s connect at the level of intentions, not manage the behaviors that come out of the need.

Myth 5 – We need to show negative values for children to learn positive values.

Most moral stories operate on this principle – Show the bad versus good and automatically good will make sense.

One, you run the risk that child may like the ‘bad’ more (eg: the bully seems to be having all the fun).

Two, in real life things are not so clearly black and white. A child told me, “Uncle I kicked him hard, so that he understands to not behave like this with smaller children”.

Bottom line: Just let the child have as many learning experiences – both good and bad. More ‘data’, more sensitization, will probably help children refine their judgments better.

Myth 6 – A child does not know what is good from bad.

Children primarily learn, not from us or books, but from what they experience. Naturally it is less important that they become ‘good’ but more important that they learn how to discern what is good from bad. Usually, we just pass our judgement. So lets plan, how instead of feeding them, we can get them to learn how to fish.

Once simple way is to get them to think beyond right and wrong – throw situations to them and get them to explore various aspects of it. Also see connection even in seemingly unrelated situations. eg: “Amongst all the people in Kingdom of Shah Jahan, for whom the making of TajMahal was kind and for whom it was unkind?

Bottom line: Lets again look at empowering them to become more aware of their decisions and resultant consequences.