Princess Ivana Pignatelli Aragona Cortes explains why it’s so
important for parents to consciously focus on instilling strong values in
their kids and why summer is the perfect time to do it.

"“Summerize” Your Values:  How Parents Can Teach Positive Values in Everyday Life"Every parent wants their children to grow up with strong core values and habits, but in the chaos of everyday life, it can be difficult to focus on instilling them. After you rush from work to preschool to swimming lessons to the dry cleaner, it’s all you can do to make sure that everyone eats and has a bath before bedtime (finally!) arrives. Sure, when the opportunity arises you might make a quick observation about why honesty, kindness, or good nutrition is so important. But as far as your kids are concerned, those comments are the equivalent of shiny balls: distractions that are quickly forgotten about.

Not to worry, says Princess Ivana Pignatelli Aragona Cortes. The weeks ahead are the perfect time to make sure your daily life reflects the values you want your children to absorb.

“Summer is a great time to take advantage of teachable moments because there’s a relaxed schedule, and you tend to have the time and energy to be proactive instead of reactive,” points out Ivana, who is a featured blogger at Modern Mom, founder of Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess , and coauthor of A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year. “Plus, kids have an increased capacity to learn from you because they aren’t in school or preschool, for example.”

Our strongest values are formed early in life, Ivana points out, so it’s important for you to take a step back and determine what beliefs, behaviors, and habits you really want your kids to have. This isn’t a task you want to leave to teachers, coaches, etc.!

“As parents, we often get overwhelmed by all the things we need to be teaching our kids, and we try to cover everything, all the time,” Ivana says. “The result is that kids feel swamped, and nothing is reinforced in a meaningful way. However, if you can choose two or three values to focus on for a short period of time, I think you will see that you can get real movement in those areas (particularly with small children). And best of all, the things your children learn now will lay the groundwork for introducing new values in the future.”

When you choose just a few values to “summerize” over the coming months, your kids won’t be so overloaded with instructions that they fail to absorb anything. Plus, Ivana points out, you’ll be a more effective teacher since you’ll be concentrating on identifying teachable moments around those specific values.

“You don’t have to preach or lecture; instead, work on blending those values into your family’s daily life,” she suggests.

Here, Ivana shares a list of ten positive values and habits you can choose from, as well as tips to connect them to your parenting:

Teaching Empathy:

• If another child seems left out at a party, help your son engage him in an activity. Later, refer back to this incident. “See how happy it made Jordan when you asked him to play kickball with you?”

• Involve your child in your volunteer work. Bring her with you as you work at a soccer camp for underprivileged kids, for example, or as you feed and walk the animals at the local shelter. Talk to her about how important it is to help out those who are less fortunate.

Teaching Self-Control:

• Don’t perpetuate the “just five more minutes” game. When it’s time to get out of the pool and go home, it’s time to get out of the pool and go home. Tell her if she argues you don’t get to visit the pool the next day.

• At a party, encourage your child to put the needs of others ahead of her own. Ask her to step back and let others get their cake first, for instance.

• Insist on sharing. Teach your child about waiting to play with a toy until someone else is done, or asking nicely if you can both play with the toy.

Teaching Honesty:

• Don’t let your child cheat at playground games, even if it’s Duck, Duck, Goose. Call him out on it. If others cheat, bring the occurrence up later and explain why it’s so bad.

• If you know your child has done something wrong, casually ask him about it. “Did you take Matthew’s toy train away from him during your play date yesterday?” If he fesses up, praise him for telling you the truth. If he lies, gently confront him with what you know and use it as a teachable moment to discuss why honesty is so important.

Teaching Kindness:

• Have your child help another child pick up her toys and put them away.

• Have your child show a smaller kid who is scared to go down the slide how fun it is.

• Go with your child to take a basket of veggies or a bunch of flowers from your garden to an older person in the neighborhood. Have her handmake a card to go with them.

Teaching Reading:

• Make it part of the routine. It depends on your schedule, of course, but many moms cherish a bedtime reading ritual. Read every single day no matter how tired you are. The idea is to make books part of the fabric of daily life.

• Push your child a little—don’t limit him to picture books. Because kids often have later bedtimes in the summer, it’s a great time to tackle a chapter book. Don’t worry that it’s “too old” for your child—you might be amazed by how well even toddlers can follow a good story.

• Set summer reading goals. You might even attach rewards. For instance, after each five books read together, your child gets a trip to the frozen yogurt store.

• Read outside the box. Spread a blanket out under a tree and read in the shade. Or take a book to the park. It’s a great way to enjoy summer weather as you instill a love for reading.

• Stop by the local library regularly. Learn about and take advantage of storytimes, summer reading programs, enrichment activities, etc.!

Teaching Sports and Sportsmanship:

• Hold family sports tournaments in the yard or the park. Kick a soccer ball around or play basketball. Keep it light but do look for teachable moments: “Your sister won that round and it’s okay. You won last time. If you keep crying we will have to go inside.”

• Take a ball to the beach. You’ll be amazed by how much you end up playing with your kids instead of just vegging out. (Also, play classic games like Shark and Marco Polo in the pool!)

• Get tickets to a game. (Baseball—major or minor league—is an American favorite.) You can talk about the rules of the game and enjoy cheering together. Ask your child why the losing team congratulates the winning one—this is a good chance to broach the issue of sportsmanship.

Teaching Environmental Consciousness:

• Plant some flowers or vegetables and let your kids help care for them. You might even give them sole responsibility for a particular rose bush or tomato plant.

• Assign kids a recycled art project. Talk about why recycling matters and have them create something fabulous from materials like toilet paper rolls, paper plates, milk cartons, egg cartons, etc. (Google “recycled art projects for kids” for some great ideas!)

• Get kids involved in home conservation efforts. Teach them to turn off lights, close doors, turn off the water while brushing teeth, etc. You might even make a friendly competition out of who can remember to do these things most often.

• Banish TV and get kids outside several days a week. (This is good for you, too.) When kids love and understand nature, they’ll be more motivated to conserve it—both now and in the future.

• Visit a zoo and make some new animal friends. Talk to your kids about what it means when an animal is endangered, why this happens, and how we can help.

Teaching Nutrition:

• Let kids help with dinner. Even toddlers can wash veggies and peel a hardboiled egg. Talk about making nutritious choices and be sure to comment on how delicious it all tastes.

• Play the alphabet food game. Starting with A (apples, asparagus) and B (beans, blueberries), try to eat through the entire alphabet this summer. (Keep track with a chart on the fridge.) It’s a great strategy for getting kids to try a variety of foods, including “yucky” ones like sardines and spinach.

• Visit a local farmer’s market. Kids can talk to some of the vendors about how their favorite fruits and veggies are grown. You can also explain to your kids why it’s good to support local farmers!

• Turn healthy foods into fun treats. Instead of ice cream or candy or chips, offer fresh watermelon slices, homemade orange juice popsicles, or blueberries (bonus if you picked them yourself!) with cream and a sprinkling of sugar.

Teaching Positive Thinking:

• Teach your child to notice the good things that are all around us in everyday life. For example, as you walk down the sidewalk, say, “Aren’t Mrs. Brown’s flowers pretty? We live in such a beautiful neighborhood.” Or, “Look how happy Fido is to see you when you come home. We have a great pet, don’t we?”

• Start a new mealtime or bedtime ritual. Ask your child to name things that he is grateful for, and make sure to point out things he should appreciate about himself.

Teaching Problem Solving:

• If your child says, “I don’t want to drink milk,” don’t just ask what else she’d like to drink. Teach her to think about the next step and proactively suggest, “Could I have water instead?”

• Involve your child in answering questions and finding solutions to problems. If your son is upset because he can’t reach a toy on a high shelf, ask, “How do you think you could get it down? Could you reach it if you stood on your stool?”

“It’s easy to think of ‘teaching good, strong values’ as one of the scarier and more daunting tasks of parenthood,” Ivana concludes. “But it’s really just about living by design and making conscious choices about your family’s habits, attitudes, and priorities. Best of all, if you commit to ‘summerizing’ your values in the coming months, you and your kids will grow closer to each other and make some great memories!”

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About Princess Ivana:
Ivana is the author of A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year, which was cowritten with her mother, Magdalene Smith, and her sister, Marisa Smith. Their blog, Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess , is a blend of humor, practical advice, and lifestyle tips on the essentials. Ivana is also a featured blogger on Modern Mom.