It’s pretty safe to assume that a person has a set of values he or she lives by. When asked, it’s probably easy to identify a handful of your own core values. But, if pressed, how easy is would it be to name all the values that define who you are? Do you think your children could name your top three? Heck, go ahead and ask them, it might be eye opening to find out what they think!

More often than not, we assume that not only do we understand what our values are without really needing to think about it, but we also assume our children and others know what those values are too. Just as we teach our children vocabulary to learn and understand new concepts, so too do we need to teach the vocabulary of personal and family values.

So, what are values? They are words, ideas, and standards we live by, that define our person, our family. Values may be taught to us through family tradition, including examples such as integrity, honor, bravery, or education. We also learn values from our culture: togetherness, independence, or tradition. Values can come from spiritual means: faith, selflessness, compassion, or forgiveness, or from friends: trust, honesty, and respect. We even have values we learn from our favorite sports team: loyalty, pride, and sportsmanship!

Our personal values define who we are. Ideally, they serve as guideposts on life’s curvy roads. Take a moment, and ask yourself the following questions. Do you notice any patterns, such as consistent values you rely on; or perhaps, values you were not fully aware you held?

– How do you choose to spend your free time?

– How did you decide on your job/career?

– How do you choose your close friends?

– What are the most important factors you consider when faced with tough choices?

– How do you react/respond when someone wrongs you?

– If someone described you in three words, what three words would you hope they choose?

– Look through your bookshelves; do the titles reflect consistent values?

Defining and internalizing a set of personal values is an important part of developing an identity. Values offer a baseline for decision-making, problem solving, and choosing the people with whom you surround yourself. Values help define our families, and help mold our children. As parents, the family values we establish serve as the foundation for the personal values our children adopt.

Throughout their lives, we can teach our children the things we value. As small children, it may be through books, songs, or play. In grade school, it may be through drawings or games. For teens, keeping a “values business card” may serve as an important reminder.


Break out the paper, crayons, paint, and markers! With the younger kiddos, make a family crest. Include symbols of what values your family stand for. Sometimes it’s helpful to have an initial discussion to generate a “values word bank.” This can get the ball rolling on choosing those that matter most to each of you.

With older children, making values “business cards” may be more developmentally appropriate. Make a business card (there are some great templates on most word processing programs) and have each family member write down his or her own personal values. Then, encourage everyone to always keep this business card on them, (maybe in a backpack, wallet, car visor, iPhone case) to remind them of what he or she stands for.