Before I had a moment to respond, Ada, my 5-year-old, was straight in there with an answer to her own question. “Does it mean doing the right thing, even when people can’t see you?”
I was relieved to know Ada had been listening at school rather than daydreaming about rainbows and My Little Ponies. I was also reassured that, even at such a young age, she’s starting to understand the importance of values. I realised that, if kids as young as five can happily grasp the concept of values from a basic perspective, surely we, as grown-ups can find simpler ways to explore them in life and work too…
Talk to me like I’m five
There’s no greater way to strip out all the unnecessary twaddle and focus on the stuff that matters. I was recently recommended ‘A Kids Company About’. Through over 50 charming children’s books, they tackle the toughest of subjects including climate change, racism, bullying, addiction, and anxiety. They also cover a range of books on values – bravery, curiosity, creativity, gratitude, optimism and empathy. The founder of the company, Jelani Memory says, ‘books are a magical way to open up conversations.’ A Kids Co brings that magic to life with empowering messages that are easy to understand. Take a leaf from the books of kid’s authors and keep your language nice and simple.
Use relatable storytelling to illustrate values
Ada explained that integrity had actually been the topic of her school assembly that day, and they watched a video with examples to explain it. One showed a little boy gleefully choosing some sweets to buy, then coming out of the shop, clutching his sugar-filled paper bag in one hand, his change in the other. When he realised he’d been given too much, he took a moment to think about what to do, and decided to return it to the shop keeper. Ada was able to immediately relate to the value of integrity. Stories don’t have to be epic tales. They can be short and impactful. But make sure they are relatable.
Keep values front of mind
Talking of assemblies, think back to those old school days when we trailed into the sports hall to gather on the floor for that daily ritual. The head would stand at the front to give the naughty ones a telling off, congratulate classes on their projects, and talk about the important topics of the day. Celebration Assembly is held every Friday at Ada’s school. Kids are awarded certificates and congratulated on their achievements. They also focus on values and how they can grow into decent human beings. It’s something that happens every week so it’s a moment to look forward to. Importantly, those values are reinforced at every opportunity. Even as grown-ups, we need regular reminders. We need messages to be repeated. Focus frequently on values to make sure they remain a priority.
Recognise the magic moments
During those celebration assemblies, one child from each class is chosen by their teacher to be publicly praised. They’re called out by the head and handed a certificate in front of the whole school. Those moments of praise centre on community values. They are clear and specific and recognise each child for going over and above to show perseverance in a particular subject, caring for a friend in need, overcoming a challenge by being brave, respecting the differences of others, demonstrating integrity when faced with difficult choices. Celebrating successes helps to promote these values in a positive way while recognising how individuals all contribute to making the school a great place to be.
Have role models like Applejack
Back to My Little Pony for a moment… You may not know this, but each of the main characters represents aspects of friendship – honesty, laughter, generosity, kindness, and loyalty. You can’t move in my house without stepping on one of these treasured little toys. Ada is mad for them. She’s also inspired by their individual personalities and the way they take care of each other. She loves acting out the scenes and playing around with their words and phrases. With the right role models in place, values can be brought to life and spark imaginations.
Make it fun!
Whether you’re hopscotching with friends, junk-modelling at school, or plastering My Little Pony stickers on the furniture, everything’s fun when you’re five. But that’s not always the case when we get older. Enter rules and processes, duties and deadlines. But we can still make talking about values a fun thing to do. However you promote values, make it memorable, make it entertaining, and make it joyful.
The lessons we learn from our children and the way they behave are often the most valuable ones. They are not complex and confusing because kids have a great way of keeping things simple.
And when it comes to clear messages about values, I’m happy to hop on the My Little Pony bandwagon as they perfectly sum up the way to be…
“We’re all being ourselves and we’re all accepting of one another.”
Plain and simple.
By Caroline Roodhouse for Alive!