Bents, characteristics, abilities and tendencies are the conduits through which you can pass your values to your kids. But how exactly do you make the pass? It’s though your life, the way you live.
Kids learn most effectively through observation and imitation. It’s the witness of our lives — more than anything we say — that is taken in slowly and cumulatively by our children.
Children drink in everything around them. They see the way we act with others. They listen to everything we say. They observe the way we handle our money. They hear what we say on the phone and the way we deal with salespeople. Children compare what they see with what they are told, and in the case of a clear conflict, they usually go with what they see.
There are many ways to communicate your values to your kids. There are formal lectures; specific talks, books and discussions on what has been read; reprimands; reminders; various kinds of discipline and punishment; and religious education with related activities.
All of these ways of communicating with your kids do count for a great deal, but they cannot come close to their observing your living out your values consistently, specifically and diligently day in and out. That’s the surest way to pass on the values and principles your children need to guide their lives — values that will take root in their hearts, not simply stick on the outside until they can get away from your authority. Truth be told, values are more often caught than taught.
It’s easy to get so hung up on the mundane side of parenting — cooking, cleaning, carpooling, taxiing — that we forget about the single most important job we parents have to do, which is to successfully pass our values on to our children.
Equipping children with values is not the same as making them obey. Parents can get their kids — even the dog — to do just about anything provided they exert enough external pressure. Threats of severe consequences motivate immediate compliance but aren’t likely to produce long-term commitment. When the children or teenagers are free of the external pressure, their behavior reflects their true values, the condition of their heart, their true character.
Kids who leave home having never taken ownership of positive values, such as integrity, responsibility, courage and respect, don’t make the transition into the real world very well. They bounce around and make all kinds of foolish choices. They often suffer long-term consequences simply because they do not have a positive, strong value system. They have nothing to guide their lives.
But how exciting and gratifying it is for parents to observe their children catch their values and choose to do the right thing simply because it is right, not in order to escape external pressure or earn a reward.
One of the most important lessons you can teach your kids is how to handle their money. Unfortunately, for most of us, giving our kids a financial education is an afterthought. Where do you start? And what if you don’t feel financially confident yourself?
In my book “Raising Financially Confident Kids,” I tell my husband’s and my story — how we were miserably in debt, unemployed, clueless and basically without hope while parenting two very young children. Even in the face of that misery, we came up with a plan because we were terrified our boys would turn out like me. (Don’t miss the epilogue!) We put the plan into action mostly without knowing what we were doing. But to our amazement — more like shock and awe, to be honest — it worked. On our way to getting a financially confident life, our kids got one, too.
We found hope. We got out of debt. And our boys — both adults now — have carried with them the values of living below their means, saving and giving. We raised financially confident men who have steered clear of debt and found their place in the world.
Over the years, I’ve heard from thousands of families who read our plan, adopted it with their children and are now experiencing very similar kinds of success. They’re sending kids into the real world with the values, knowledge and practical experience they need to live financially confident lives.
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, ”Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”