Talking Family Values with our Children

Family Values

In her last blog in September, Tracy Quinney explored the work of Dr Brene Brown and Imperfect Parenting. In this latest blog she explores family values and how we can open up the lines of communication with our children especially when moving through to adolescence.

Being the imperfect parent of an imperfect child

Hello again Imperfect Parents. How did you go with your homework from my last blog in September? You remember…..what values do you practice in your family that support your imperfect parenting of your imperfect child? It’s not easy is it?

We are familiar with vision statements and a core value system for the organisations we work for. We understand the need for clearly defined rules of engagement, and roles & responsibilities for key players. We acknowledge the need for rewarding good performance and penalties for not meeting performance indicators.

But within our own families…..not so much!

Defining your family values: What do you want to stand for?

As a result I often ask parents to consider what they would like their family to be like? What is it like now? I ask them to clarify what their values are and write them down.

In 1726, at the ripe old age of 20, Benjamin Franklin created such a plan which consisted of 13 values. His autobiography focused on this plan and he wrote ‘I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.’I don’t think we are too dissimilar to Mr Franklin in our hope that our little imperfect descendants have an opportunity to learn more about values.

Equally when they move into adolescence and pushing for independence how can we ensure that they will look back to us as their parents, even if figuratively, and make informed, intelligent and safe decisions. How do we encourage them to know that values are choices? How do we encourage our children to think critically about their values and to make decisions about the values they choose to adopt?

Like the workplace, once we have established the values that are important to us as a family unit we need to explore the behaviours, roles, responsibilities, rules and laws that support them.

As much as possible we need to shape our children’s understanding of what value a behaviour supports and why we value it. It is at this time that I encourage parents to think about what is negotiable and what is non negotiable. As much as possible we need a collaborative effort and not a dictatorship. Where do the negotiables come in?

How to negotiate within your family and keep the lines of communication open

Endeavour to get as much buy in from the whole family as possible in regard to rules and what is the consequence if they are not followed. For example, with adolescents this can apply to what time to stay out to, who can they spend time with, homework and the big one, technology usage.

As parents it is important for us to know what our bottom lines are and consider what we are open to negotiate. We also need to be able to articulate our rationale for our non negotiables in a language that is developmentally appropriate for our children at the time.

I know this may be scary and feel like we are relinquishing our power but as much as possible let them be part of the decision making. It may also feel somewhat dishonest because as parents and adults you do have the final say but encourage them to develop skills of establishing and articulating their rationale.

You may very well find they have some valid points. In these moments you are treating them in a respectful way and encouraging them to speak in a respectful manner to you. The likelihood of emotional outbursts from both parties will be less likely.

You are also teaching them that sometimes they can’t get their own way but they will know the reason for this. Will they like it….um…. No…. will they huff and puff…..probably……. but the lines of communication will remain open. I am not suggesting they get to negotiate this forever.

Once you have made the final decision negotiations have closed but you can remind them that they will have the opportunity again to negotiate any further decisions, behaviours and consequences.

You will make mistakes in this, so will they (remember we are all imperfect) but we keep trying and learning. The process is much more important than the outcome for we keep the lines of communication open between ourselves and our children and we model behaviour that we value and are useful throughout the lifespan.

Encourage your family to act on their values consistently and celebrate all that this gives 

There are fun parts within this process too as we can’t just talk about values we need to DO them. This includes participating in activities like sport, music and any other interests you or your children hold.

Through these fun activities we encourage our children to experience, interact with others, work towards goals and experience positive emotions connected to these times.

We also get to celebrate with them the everyday moments when we witness behaviours that support our values like being kind to their siblings or friends, completing their chores or getting ready for school. Such small yet significant moments.

Give your family, including yourself, permission to make mistakes and learn from them

I am not suggesting that this is a full hardy way of ensuring our children will never make bad choices and act in a way that is not in line with the agreed family values. They are of course imperfect and will make mistakes. After all, as adults we do not always behave in ways in line with our values either. However, mistakes are always an opportunity to talk to our children about what was behind their decision to behave in the way they did, what was the consequence and what did they learn and how would they make better choices next time.

That’s all we can ask of ourselves and them isn’t it?

One of the reasons I was attracted to working at Attuned Psychology is that it is a value based practice and you get a sense of this as soon as you walk in the front door in our North Adelaide and Glenelg premises. I invite you to come and see one of our Psychologists who would welcome exploring family values with you.

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