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How to Instill Good Behavior and Values Without the Scare Tactics
  • Even when you're not around, you want to be confident that your child will do the right thing -- like help a crying classmate feel better instead of teasing her even more.

    Being able to distinguish right from wrong is dependent on the values your child possesses. A kind child is more likely to reconsider saying hurtful things to a friend. “Values are beliefs or standards that motivate people to act,” said Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker, associate director of Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life in a research brief. 

    How do we instill good and positive values in children at a young age? Here are a few tips how: 

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    1. Avoid the scare tactic. 
    If your child is only sharing her toys because you’ve threatened to confiscate it if she doesn’t, then she’s not learning about the value of being generous and giving. We want our children to have good behavior because they know it’s the right thing to do -- Dr. Padilla-Walked calls this being “intrinsically motivated.” This way you can be assured that your child will be kind even when you’re not around. 

    2. Be patient in answering your child’s questions of “why.”

    When your child asks why it’s wrong to yell at her sibling or be rude to her yaya, take the time to answer. According to Dr. Padilla-Walker, “Parents should minimize the use of ‘because I’m the parent, that’s why’ and talk with children about why certain beliefs and behaviors are important.” 

    Make her understand the reason why the behavior is acceptable or not (“You know how you don’t like it when other people are loud and angry? You hurt your little brother’s feelings and make him feel bad when you shout at him”). Keep your explanations brief, and make sure to use simple words that your child will understand.

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    3. Be consistent
    If you want your child to value her education, don’t be lenient with her attendance or school work. Putting importance on her schooling will let her know that you value her education and she should know as well. Make sure you and your partner are putting importance on the same values as well. “If parents only stick to [their values] on occasion or if only mom stresses this but not dad, it will be harder for children to perceive parental values accurately,” said Dr. Padilla-Walker. 

    4. Be an example
    “[Children] may not always do what we say, but they will always, eventually, do what we do. So most of what children learn about how to behave is from what we model,” said Dr. Laura Markham, a psychologist and parenting expert, in an article for Psychology Today

    “When we lie to someone on the phone when they're listening, they learn that dishonesty is ok. When we lie about their age to get them into an amusement park, they learn that cheating is ok. When we speed in the car, they learn that breaking the law is ok if we don't get caught,” she said. One of the most effective ways to teach a child right from wrong is to model it. Actions do speak louder than words.

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    5. Build a strong bond
    Your child is much more likely to accept the values you want to instill in him when you have a strong parent-child bond. “When children feel close to their parents, they want to ‘follow’ them...That's why connection is 90% of parenting. Until the child feels the connection, she isn't open to our direction,” said Dr. Markham. 

    She added, “Connection isn't something you do once. You have to make a point of reconnecting with your child daily.” According to Denise Pope, a researcher, senior lecturer at Stanford University and co-founder of Challenge Success, toddlers to teens need three kinds of bonding with their parents every day: playtime, downtime and family time. Read more about the importance of the three here

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