- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

Whenever I hear people talk about the need for character education, I see the absolute necessity for parents to be involved in this as the primary instillers of values into their own children. On a daily basis, I see parents doing things that teach “core values” in their family, no matter where the academic education is taking place.

I see parents teach children generosity by giving them the money that the parent wishes to donate to a certain cause, and having the child hand it to the recipient. This is a clear way of saying: “We in our family are expected to care about others, and to be responsive to need.”

In my neighborhood, it is common to see parents and children out together on a community cleanup day, picking up trash together and sharing pizza afterward. The unspoken teaching here is: “Our family makes an effort to improve the community around us.”

In many families, parents teach their children the value of hospitality; when guests come, the children know to greet them, to offer to hang up their coats, to prepare some drinks or food and serve it, and to participate in the conversation if included.

The habit of economy may be taught by the parents discussing whether a certain purchase is really needed, or repairing something rather than buying something new, or living without.

Good work habits and care for one’s home and possessions are learned when the children are expected to take part in regular household maintenance tasks. When parents automatically clean up after events, and include their children, even if young, the child develops that as a habit of life.

Punctuality is learned by children through parents’ examples of preparing things in time to make appointments. “If we have to be there by 10 and it takes 45 minutes, we should allow an hour for traffic, so let’s start at 9.”

Parents teach honesty by example as well. Our behavior in business dealings, social interactions, or in communications with others will be mimicked by our children in their lives. If we always return lost items to the owner, always pay our debts on time, always admit to any responsibility we have for a certain issue, then we teach our children that is the automatic standard.

Even bravery is learned at home. There may be issues in which injustice or wrongdoing takes place. How we react is crucial for our children’s later choices in life. I know I was very proud of my parents for working in the civil rights movement, even though I received a lot of sneers from my schoolmates for our family’s stance. It stung, but it taught me that goodness sometimes exposes us to hate and that it is sometimes important to be unpopular.

Parents also help their children see with eyes of hope and honor by what they pay attention to. Our words can help our children see the goodness in others and reinforce it. If we notice people working hard, and we thank them; if we speak warmly to people in each interaction; if we tell stories to others about the good things people do — we are helping our children to create an internal landscape in which goodness is the norm, and anything else is the anomaly.

Children grow in security, still aware that wrongdoing may happen, but seeing that they have power to expand the goodness by their own words and actions.

Whether home-schoolers or not, parents are the primary transmitters of values for their children. In a way, we should live as if a million eyes are watching, because our children’s children’s children will be passed the same lessons that we are conveying through our simple actions today.

• Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer living in Maryland.

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