Determining what values to instill in your children can be a daunting task because — let’s be real — there’s a lot.
Drawing from 17 years of experience, therapist Eli Harwood compiled a list of the top values she wants her children to gain from her parenting.
“In the daily monotony of raising children,” she writes, “it is easy to get lost in the tasks and forget the actual goals. Here is a good summary of what I am working towards with my kids.”
These are nine values a seasoned therapist hopes her children gain from her attachment-based parenting.
John Bowlby was one of the first researchers to study the impact belonging had on children’s development. During the end of World War II, he observed children who had been separated from their parents and found an increase in loneliness and mental distress, says Teaching + Learning Lab.
A sense of belonging increases children’s academic performance, skill acquisition, socialization, and ability to form lasting friendships.
Harwood writes, “There is no greater gift in the life of a human being than the gift of feeling deep connection and place in relationships. I want my kids to know that their true authentic self belongs with me and in our family. That they are delighted in, seen, heard, and wanted.”
According to Melbourne Child Psychology, “Empathy yields kindness — a quality most parents hope to instill in their children.” But yielding kindness is just the tip of the iceberg. Research on children 11-13 years old shows that high levels of empathy lead to assertive bystander behavior, in which your children stand up to bullying and other injustices.
Empathetic children also form healthier relationships and do well in thoughtful problem-solving, an arguably crucial skill for professional success.
“Empathy is learned through empathy,” Hardwood continues, “When someone connects to our emotional states and gives us their genuine compassionate presence, it teaches us to do the same for others. I want my kids to know the power of receiving empathy so they can feel the gift of it, and then want to give it as a result.”
Contrary to the belief that severe strictness and harsh discipline build resilience, the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University highlights, “the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.”
When you focus less on harsh discipline and more on building resilience through support, children have a better time adapting to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, and stress, according to the American Psychological Association.
Harwood writes, “I want my children to have a deep internal script about my belief in their capacity to handle life. Even the hard stuff. That I trust their instincts and that I will be there to give them emotional support even when their choices lead to consequences.”
The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University notes that play in young children develops resilience and helps navigate significant adversity.”
Play also helps children overcome adversity, which helps improve problem-solving, self-esteem, communication, and decision-making skills.
“I want my children to be able to know the full depth of laughter and goofiness and the joy of doing things for no other purpose than pure silliness,” Harwood admits.
Children taking responsibility helps build more than just confidence.
It helps them acknowledge that their actions influence their reality, which can help build both empathy and confidence in their decision-making.
Hardwood says, “I want my children to learn how to take care of themselves, others, and the world effectively. To feel a part of the places they work and dwell so they can continue to make the world a better place. It feels good to live responsibly.”
Teaching accountability to your children is a lifelong lesson that involves understanding the consequences of their actions. Even though it’s hard to teach, when we refuse to teach our children accountability, many things can go wrong. The most important being, that it can affect both their social relationships and future successes.
But, when you teach children to hold themselves accountable for their actions, it can help foster a genuine approach to life, where they begin to understand the weight of their actions and how to build a life surrounded by positivity.
“I want my children to know the beautiful process of repair. How to own an impact they have made on another, how to apologize, and how to make it right. All without spiraling into shame, and instead feeling empowered,” Harwood writes.
7. Love of Learning
“The journey to instilling a love for learning begins in kindergarten,” notes Pardes Jewish Day School in Scottsdale, Arizona. When children feel connected to school, they have a better chance of success.
Pardes further explains that an environment that encourages positive learning helps children to advocate for themselves, explore opportunities, and take risks.
Harwood says, “I want my children to know that I am more excited for them to enjoy discovering the world than I am for them to labor to produce particular grades or achievements. I would far rather a curious kid with C’s than an anxiety-ridden kid with A’s.”
8. Body Confidence
A literature reviewed published in the National Library of Medicine found that self-comparison begins at six years old. During this stage, your child will begin to compare themselves to their peers, especially daughters.
If that isn’t jarring enough, parents, family, and media also influence the way children view themselves. The study authors note that “boy’s self-consciousness due to their body size was linked to paternal figures, and the idealization of thinness for girls was related to their mother’s eating habits.”
Harwood admits, “I want my children to know that their bodies are amazing. To trust their body’s cures and to delight in all the ways their bodies function. To know that the presence of their body is truly magical and that no matter how the world values their body, it is a treasure to be cared for.”
In a world of media, it is normal for children to question their self-worth and self-esteem. A team of researchers at the University of Washington found that “by the age of five children have a sense of self-esteem comparable in strength to that of adults.”
This means that building self-confidence needs to begin way before kindergarten. Remember, high self-esteem is important as it encourages children to cope with their mistakes and try again.
In addition, confident children tend to have a growth mindset and are more likely to stand up and ask for help when they truly need it.
“I want my children to feel worthy of all good things. Worthy of kindness and rest and boundaries and joy and adventure and love and living a life of connection and fulfillment,” says Harwood.
By prioritizing these values, we are not only contributing to our children’s academic and social success but empowering their independence as well.
Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor’s degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.