How to Instill Positive Values in Your Child

By: Gene Roehlkepartain, Guest Blogger

One of the most important things your child can do is to internalize the values they will live by. For moms, dads, and other parenting adults, this process can be both rewarding and terrifying. On the one hand, we see children expressing their honesty, compassion, and other positive values that we would hope to pass on to them. On the other hand, they often also do things that don’t reflect our values—or even that contradict our deeply held values. Other influences in their lives—peers, media, other adults—can influence them to adopt values and perspectives that we may not share. We may feel like it’s out of our hands. But it’s not.

Even though it’s critical that young people internalize their own values (rather than having them imposed), parenting adults continue to shape and influence their children’s values throughout the teenage years and into adulthood. The goal and challenge for parents is to help teens “make their own” the kinds of values that help them make positive choices throughout their lives. Moving from external control (such as doing what your parent says you should do) to self-regulation (doing what you believe in doing) is a central task of growing up, particularly during the teenage years.

Consider these tips to help you be a positive role model in your child's life.

  • Nurture a warm relationship. Children tend to be more willing to accept and internalize parental values when they feel close to their parents. And close families usually have many shared interests and values that reinforce each other.
  • Show and tell what matters. A key to your influence on your child’s values is that they understand what really matters to you. The best way to do that is both to show and tell—help them see the values in action in your own life, then talk about why you do what you do. Getting the child’s attention, being clear, and regularly reinforcing the values all help children to more accurately understand the values you hope for them. That increases the likelihood that they will internalize those values.
  • Cultivate open communication. Teens are more likely to internalize their parents’ values when they have open, frequent, and honest communication with each other—when teens feel comfortable talking with their parents about tough issues and about things that matter to them. Open communication increases the odds that teens will listen to and internalize their parents’ values. In addition, parents gain a greater understanding of how their teens think and what’s important to them. That makes it easier to connect the parents’ values with the teens’ own emerging values.
  • Pay attention to your child’s world and interests. When you show interest in the things that matter to your child, you show them that you care about their choices and activities. That attentiveness, in turn, motivates your child to pay attention to and accept your values and expectations.
  • Give your child choices and appropriate independence. Helping children see that they have power in their own lives and can influence others helps them be aware of and internalize their own values. If parents don’t give choices or don’t see their children as unique individuals, the children may end up pushing away in order to develop their own sense of who they are.
  • Provide appropriate information, guidelines, and structures. In addition to giving children opportunities to make their own choices, it is just as important to set clear and fair expectations and consequences, then follow through with the consequences when needed. There is, however, a careful balance. If the rules and consequences lead to feelings of being pressured or controlled, they can become counterproductive, with teens rebelling against them.
  • Learn from your children. Your relationship with your child is a two-way street. They learn from you; you learn from them. Through their experiences, they may develop values and beliefs that enrich your life and help you see the world and other people in new ways. Be open to what they have to teach you. In the process, they will be open to what you have to teach them.
  • Align values with the other parent (when applicable). Shared values between parents or parenting adults increase the likelihood that their children will accept their value priorities. If values are not shared, the child may feel conflicting loyalties in picking which values to adopt as her or his own.
  • Cultivate skills to put values into practice. In order to internalize values, teens skills to help her or him be confident in standing up for what they believe and to take actions based on their values. Building assertiveness and resistance skills, as well as skills of empathy, caring, and compassion, all help to reinforce positive values by putting them into action.
  • Provide experiences that reinforce positive values and commitments. If caring for others is important, give young people opportunities to care for others. If being honest is important, give them opportunities to be honest. If being generous is important, give them opportunities to share. If being responsible is important, give responsibilities to the child where others are depending on her or him. When you do, also be sure to talk about or reflect on the experience, so they become more articulate about why they do what they do.
  • View mistakes as teachable moments. Your child is going to make mistakes and not live up to your values or his or her own. Sometimes those mistakes are fairly trivial; sometimes they have momentous consequences. In each case, remember to keep your relationship with your child as a priority, and seek to find ways to learn from the mistakes. Think together through appropriate consequences as well as alternate strategies for dealing with the issue in the future. That may take time, but it can pay off in the long run.
  • Recognize the limits. Even though you can (and do) influence your child's values, you don’t control them. There’s nothing parents can or should do that simply “copies” their own values onto their kids. For better and worse, many factors also influence the values teens internalize. That can include media, friends, teachers, coaches, and celebrities. It can also include world events that sear values and priorities into young people’s consciousness. So your children won’t necessarily see the values you share as being as important as you see them. Indeed, they may choose to reject some values that are really important to you. That doesn’t mean you have failed; it means they are becoming their own person.
  • Eugene C. Roehlkepartain is Vice President of Research and Development at Search Institute, and creator of the 9 Parenting Strategies. Roehlkepartain is widely recognized as an expert in child, youth, and family development in community contexts. Particular areas of interest include family strengths, community supports for families and youth, spiritual development, service-learning, youth philanthropy, and linking youth development with financial literacy. Learn more about the 9 Parenting Strategies here.

    Photo Credit: Ben Earwicker, Garrison Photography, Boise, ID

    So true



    Perfect! Thanks.

    Thank you for putting all your effort in helping the parents of today living in a world full of rushing to naming children and giving a wrong direction.

    [...] There are additional steps you can take to instill good values in your children. [...]

    May the Lord God bless you all over there, for this wonderful writeup.

    It is so important to instill values while your children are young and still impressionable. Once they become teenagers, it is harder to get them to listen. Read this book for more helpful ideas.…


    thnks 4 gving vry good tips

    this is a wonderful write up. You are making powerful impact on the lives of families. Keep it up.



    What an meaningful list! Living ones values, openly communicating your caring from others, listening to your child’s concerns, not expecting perfection from your child, as well as the other ideas your mentioned, are all important.

    For a related article, “Twenty Ways to Foster Values in Children,” see: