How to Teach Kids Values That Stick: Parenting Beyond the Classes & Books

“Stop kicking your sister! Do we need to leave right this minute?” As we attempt a family dinner out with a 2 and 4 year old.

“It’s not ok to spray people with the sprinkler!” As the unassuming passer-by gets sprayed by the sprinkler as he walks past our house.

“No, you can’t grab our neighbor’s garden tools to play with. Careful, those are sharp!” As my daughter gingerly grabs the garden clippers and swings them through the air.

These are all true stories.


It’s times like these when I start to feel the parenting overwhelm. I wonder if I’m doing this parenting gig right. Are my kids going to grow up without a basic understanding of manners? Am I raising entitled kids? Why don’t they listen?

But then I remember that they’re 2 and 4.

And that in between the grabbing and kicking and teasing, we talk about why who we are matters more than what we are. tweet

About why it’s important to turn off the water while we’re brushing our teeth. About how we can be a good neighbor and serve in our community. About why it matters that we are kind to one another.

I often think about how to teach values to my girls – I mean, beyond the parenting classes and countless parenting books. How do I strike a balance of holding them tightly, but giving them wings to fly? At 2 and 4, they’re only capable of understanding so much about what’s right and what’s wrong. When the center of your universe is goldfish crackers and glitter pens, understanding values isn’t exactly a priority.

Teaching values happens at the edges of simple moments. It happens on the periphery of goldfish crackers and glitter pens. What I do has a far greater impact on my children than what I say. So instead of worrying about whether I’m doing a good enough job teaching my girls how to be good people, I’m focusing on being a good person myself.

Here are 6 ways to teach kids your values through your actions and not just your words:

1. Serve in your community. This could mean volunteering at a local non-profit, organizing a neighborhood block party, or putting together wound care kits for those in need. 

2. Compost your food and explain to your kids why you don’t throw food scraps in the garbage.

3. Pray at the dinner table.

4. Take the city bus as a family instead of driving to your next outing.

5. Take good care of yourself (without your kids) – do yoga, go for a walk, or take a bath and lock the bathroom door. ๐Ÿ™‚

6. Go on dates with your spouse! Hug and kiss in front of your kids! Show that you might actually like each other.

When I think back on how I learned my own values, you know what? I don’t remember a single conversation with my parents about being a kind person, taking care of the environment, growing my faith, or being a good steward in our community. But I do remember going with my parents once a month to a local women’s shelter and serving food. I remember going to church (nearly) every Sunday, and I remember a whole lot of community involvement. I think that’s a pretty good place to start.

Tell me, how do you teach kids values that stick? 

How to Teach Kids Values That Stick

Related: It’s the Simple Stuff They’ll Remember






About Erin

I'm a thirty-something, coffee-loving mom of two living in a funky neighborhood in Seattle....all while seeking a balance between keeping up and slowing down.


  1. I’m not a mom, but I’d like to be one day. I’m going to try to remember these tips. They’re really great and genuine. Thank you!

  2. This is such a great post. And a great reminder as parents. It is so easy to get bogged down in the day to day that I often forget the importance of teaching these values deliberately. Thanks!

    • You’re right – it’s so easy to get bogged down in the day to day tasks of parenting!

  3. This is so great! It’s absolutely important that we’re modeling (and teaching) good values to our kids!

    • Thanks, Susannah! It can be hard to know whether what we’re doing is having any impact at all, but just like the title of your blog says, I believe that “simple moments stick!”

Speak Your Mind