3. Family Values
Family values are the family’s ideas or beliefs about what is important, what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong.
Think of your values as your code of conduct, the things you stand by, that direct how you live your life. It is the moral compass to help navigate the world.
Defining your own family values can help your children make good choices, define behaviour in various situations and solidify the bonds within your family. Strategies such as family time, family meetings and family agreements can help you to instil your family values and establish family rituals to create lasting bonds as your children grow into adulthood.
Beliefs and values for your children
A message from Professor Bruce Robinson founder of The Fathering Project
Dads are powerful influencers in shaping the beliefs and values of their children, both through what they say and what they do. Listen to this podcast here
Family Time activities are great to explore and establish family values.
Family values define what you think is important and how you want to live. Family values reflect what you feel is most important and may differ from one family to the next. However, there are some fundamental core values that tend to match within a society’s values that you can consider such as love, kindness, trust, honesty, respect, generosity, courtesy and fairness etc.
As your children develop, they will be exposed to more outside influences including movies, television, peers and all the other people they meet along the way. Establishing your own family values is now more important than ever with your children also navigating the online world, where there are fewer rules and less supervision.
- You are a powerful influence in shaping the beliefs and values of your children, both through what you say and what you do.
- Carefully consider what is important to you and your family when establishing your family’s core values such as love, kindness, trust, honesty, respect etc.
- Your family values can form the basis of your family agreements and rules.
- Family values are important to guide children’s behaviour offline and online.
- Start to teach values to your children when they are young. Whatever you instil as family values at that age will become habit and drive their behaviour going forward.
- With older children, discuss why family values are important and how these values can help the whole family to make good decisions.
“Family is important because it is the only institution in contemporary society that is unabashedly committed to love and caring as its primary function.” – Michael Lerner in The Politics of Meaning
How to identify your family values (what is important to you and your family):
- Begin with yourself – by asking your yourself – how do I want to be remembered as a person? Write down the words.
- Be specific about values you think are important – like love, kindness, trust, honesty, respect etc.
- (If applicable) Ask your partner to do the same and discuss the similarities and differences.
- Now ask – what are the important things I/we want my/our child to be known for as they grow up? Write a list and discuss.
- Identify (with your partner) what you see as the most important values for your family at this time.
Examples of values: Kindness, honesty, forgiveness, respect, responsibility, patience, empathy, generosity, tolerance, hard work, teamwork (you may have others that are just as important).
For younger children you may need to adapt the language – being kind, sharing, telling the truth, being helpful, being polite, listening.
Involving your children in creating your family values
Once you have identified your idea of the family values you can have a discussion with your children to get their feedback on what they think is important. This is a good activity for a family meeting time.
- Ask open-ended questions such as:
- If you want to be a good person what sort of things are important in how you act towards your friends?
- What sort of things do you think makes a good friend?
- How do you think we should treat each other in our family?
- What would we like people to say about the type of people we are in our family?
- Write down the words or ideas they come up with.
- Share the values you (and your partner) came up with earlier.
- Form a list of the top five or six values that you all think are important for your family. These become your family values (you can add to these and modify as time goes on).
- Discuss how you could start to do these things more around the home. i.e. Kindness – offering to help each other, being polite etc.
- Once you have discussed ways of showing these values, set yourselves a family challenge to try and work on one value each week. Report back at the next family meeting on your progress.
Family time is a ritual of getting the family together on a regular basis to spend valuable time connecting. The goals of family time are to help you communicate better, bring everyone closer together, and to have some fun. Whether it be Sunday breakfast, Friday game night, picnics or an exercise routine, the aim is for the family to spend valuable time together and enjoy each other’s company.
“We have takeaway on the same night each week so everyone can join in. We know not to schedule outside activities because it’s sacred family time. Whatever tradition you choose, make sure everyone, including parents, honours this set time. Everyone should show up and unplug. No texting, no Facebook, and no TV. Just enjoy each other.” – Craig, Fathering Project Dad
- Establish a regular family time when everyone is available to focus on the family.
- Make sure your family time happens regularly. Whether it is one day each week spent together, a mealtime or one hour.
- Family time can include fun family activities that everyone chooses together. i.e. board games, quiz night, family movie, outings etc.
- Allow everyone in the family the opportunity to participate in decisions about what to do during family time.
- Family time can also be utilised for family meetings for organising the family calendar, establish agreements and rules or discussions about family topics.
- Block out this family time. Don’t schedule other activities during that time. Keep it as a sacred time.
Family time can be for:
- Doing a family activity together
- Having a family meeting
- Creating family agreements and rules
- Organising the family team
- Having fun
“I believe family rituals are important. Sunday is our special family day. John cooks everyone breakfast, and we have a family dinner together. We try to have a family activity or outing that we all choose together. This helps the children know how important they are to us – that they count to us, they are special. One of the important things about this ritual is that it creates order, a reliable pattern, within the chaos of busy lives.” – Julia Anderson, wife of John Anderson, former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia
Family meetings are a great way for families to work as a team and check-in with how everyone is coping each week. Children experience a wide range of different experiences, thoughts and feelings each week. The family meeting can create a sense of routine and fun for your family, while at the same time, give you the chance to ‘check-in’ on how everyone is coping, emotionally, physically and socially.
- A meeting can be part of your Family Time and can be followed by a fun activity together.
- Try and have regular family meetings even if they are just a quick check-in for everyone to share how they are feeling.
- Sometimes you might need to call a family meeting outside of the scheduled time if you have something that needs to be discussed or organised.
- Let your children chair the meeting and create a list of topics for discussion that you all contribute to. These might include:
- Reviewing the weeks’ activities.
- Celebrating things that have happened.
- Organising or coordinating family activities.
- Updating the family planner.
- Discussing any problems or issues.
- Reviewing family agreements and rules.
- Deciding on and checking-in on family chores or tasks.
- Ask questions that get everyone talking about the routines and schedules e.g. How do you all think we are going this week? What is working well? What could we work on and do better?
- Ask your children to contribute ideas for how things could be improved to make everyone’s week run smoothly.
- Make sure your family meetings are positive and happy times. Even if there are some issues to discuss make sure you also talk about something good and always end the meeting on a positive.
Family agreements and rules
Family agreements help your family members know how to behave with each other and to make sure everyone’s needs are met. They also help your children to learn and follow the family values that you want to instil in them. Family agreements include procedures, tasks and rules that are agreed upon by the family to make sure everyone is cared for and treated fairly.
Family agreements and rules are important because:
- They help your children feel safe and secure.
- They help you establish order in your family life.
- They support the development of family values so that your children have a basis for making good decisions and choices in their life going forward.
- They include rules and consequences that are agreed upon by everyone in the family so that everyone is more likely to adhere to them.
- Consult your children: It is very important to involve each member of the family while establishing your family agreements.
- Keep it simple: Set some ground rules that are easy to follow and apply to everyone.
- Consider the age of your children: If you have a range of ages in your house, not all rules will be the same. In addition to the ground rules, set some situation agreements/rules that apply to each age group.
- Remind your children of the rules: Your children may not always remember the rules and may make mistakes, especially when there are new rules or if the child is quite young. Gently remind them of the rules.
- Set consequences with your children: Whether it be withdrawal of privileges, time out or whatever you feel is appropriate, consequences that are agreed upon by you and your children are more likely to be effective. Plus, you can say “well, we all agreed on the consequences”.
- Positive reinforcement: Make sure you watch out for your children doing the right thing by following the rules. Be enthusiastic in your praise and reward your children when they followed the rules.
Examples of ground rules
We all agree to:
- Be kind to each other
- Be fair to everyone
- Play by the rules
- Speak nicely to each other
- Think about each other’s feelings
- Treat each other how we like to be treated
You can start to make agreements with your children from a relatively early age to build their sense of responsibility and self-management. Agreements are made in collaboration and negotiation. For example, explaining to younger children that they can play with their toys, but they must put them away once they are finished.
As children get older, these agreements should aim to support them to take on more responsibility. Agreements sound like – Okay, so you can have up to an hour of leisure screen time each day, but schoolwork needs to be completed and chores done each day. How would you like to do this?
Examples of agreements
- Beds made each day and room tidy before activities
- Screen time and technology use – agreement on time spent online
- Schoolwork completed before leisure screen time
- All phones/devices on the kitchen bench at bedtime
- Completion of chores before activities/screen time
Sharing the ground rules
It is important for children to know their boundaries and that these apply no matter where they are or who they are with. Establish the ground rules with your partner or ex-partner (and involve your children if they are old enough) as to what are acceptable behaviours and the consequences of unacceptable behaviour. Both parents need to then support each other in this and be consistent in applying these rules, regardless of who the children are with.
This may mean that, at times, you have to provide support to your partner or ex-partner via phone or Skype when your child has misbehaved. Even if you are busy or tired, and really don’t want to hear all the detail, make the effort to be an involved parent – your children will thank you for it.