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What Are Values?

Gabrielle Applebury
Family enjoying meal together

Values are ideals in life that mean something to a certain person or group of people. Values shape the way people live their lives, how they interact with others and how they feel about themselves. Values are learned, usually passed down from generation to generation. However, a family or individual may decide to create new values depending upon what they find important in their own life.

Creating a Value System

The creation of a value system can be simple or complex, depending on who is doing the creating. Families may have very simple value systems, with only a few things held near and dear to their hearts. Other families may have many values and showcase diversity in values across different generations, or simply across various nuclear families with the extended family. Multicultural families often have several sets of values operating within a single home.

Cultivating Values

The creation and teaching of a value system should be done with input from all people who will be affected by the values. People will be more likely to respect and uphold a value system they had a hand in creating. This is especially true in families with children; children should have some say in what is important to the family, since they are a part of the unit the values will be affecting. While children should be a part of the creation process, use this as an opportunity to help children understand common values that may currently still be beyond their grasp, such as integrity, grace, and empathy.

Value Set Example for Families

Families may base their values on certain themes that are important to them. If a family opts to focus their value set on kindness, for example, they may:

  • Reward behaviors that support acts of kindness
  • Discuss what kindness means to each person and how they can be kind to others
  • Come up with family rules centered around kindness
  • Use examples of kindness as teachable moments
  • Use this value to inform their individual and collective decisions

What Is Important

Family values need to be important to all members of the group. Values can help solidify a family unit and bring people together, so they must feel as if the value is important to them as an individual and the family as a whole. In order for a value system to be successful, the members choosing the list of values must feel important first. Start with a small system of three to five values everyone agrees upon, then build upon those existing ideals as the idea of having common values solidifies.

Defining Values

Deciding which values your family should highlight is a personal choice. Pick as many or as few as you'd like and see which ones seem to fit best for your family.

Acceptance

Practicing acceptance as a value teaches all family members that it's important to be kind to others, not just people who are similar to your own family. This is an important value to teach little ones and it can be done through example. Your family members may encounter individuals at their school, place of work, and just generally out in the world who don't look or act exactly how your family does. Teaching acceptance can open up new opportunities in friendships, intimate relationships, and within a career.

Diverse group enjoying day at the pool

Trust

Trust is one of the main facets of healthy relationships. Teaching trustworthiness as a family value can help all family members create solid foundations for loving relationships. Being trustworthy also means being honest which can help family members stay accountable for their own actions.

Empathy

Empathy teaches others to think about the perspective of individuals other than themselves, while imagining how they may feel in certain situations. Encouraging empathy as a family value can help you teach your family about respecting others while subsequently increasing their own emotional intelligence. Being empathetic helps you better connect to yourself and others which typically results in higher levels of kindness and compassion.

Money

Practicing and teaching appropriate money handling is a great value to incorporate as a family. A healthy relationship with money can help when it comes to picking a career path and saving for the future. With little ones you can help them begin to understand the value of money by explaining to them how many hours an individual needs to work to buy a certain item (maybe a toy example for them), and how investing and saving can help increase your funds so larger purchases can be made in the future.

Humor

Humor is an important value that teaches family members to enjoy life fully, not take themselves too seriously, and appreciate a solid laugh. Laughter is a natural stress reliever and connecting through humor is a great way to forge family closeness.

Family Culture and Values

Based on how caregivers were raised and what cultural aspects were and are important to them can help dictate how a family defines their unique values. Religion, friends, family members, and important figures that family members may look up to can help a family begin to shape which values feel the most critical to pass on and live by.

Effect of Values

Values can have a considerable impact on a family in both a positive and a negative way. Positive values, such as acceptance and trust, can help families avoid secrets or even help members cope with fundamental developmental difficulties. Negative values, like a belief in violence to solve problems or a fundamental belief in racism, can be detrimental to younger family members who are easily influenced and may carry on a life of bigotry and hate after growing up in such families.

An Environment Can Shape Family Values

The positive influence of values, as well as the negative, is evident in a variety of environments, from school and work to the community at large. The effects of values can be seen in how a person interacts with others around him and how other people respond to his actions. People who were primarily influenced by positive family values tend to be successful, well-liked individuals who are adjusted and comfortable with their place in the world. People influenced by negative values often have volatile relationships and struggle to find a comfortable footing in society.

Future Impact of Values

Negative family values have a lasting effect on everyone, especially the youngest family members, so it's important that parents emphasize positive values in order to help their children grow into well-adjusted adults. Take your time thinking about which values feel the most significant to your unique family and show the little ones by example why these certain values are so important to live by.

What Are Values?