It’s very clear that what sets America apart from other civilizations is our value system. Our respect for life, liberty, democracy and social equality, and our tolerance for different religious views and lifestyles — these are all bedrock principles on which this country was founded.
These values are also the foundation of healthy communities, respectful workplaces and safe schools, so they must be passed on to each new generation.
A child’s sense of morality and social conscience begins at home, and parents can nurture it. They can discuss with their children values such as the importance of each person’s life, respect for others’ property, compassion for the less fortunate, tolerance for people who are different, and respect for rules and laws.
It is important to emphasize courtesy, honesty and cooperation in everyday life. Explain to children that money isn’t everything, and that helping others brings personal satisfaction in many ways.
Learn to disagree by using words. If a local school offers adults an opportunity to take part in a conflict management program, sign up. You can learn techniques and approaches that will work well with children and will help you pass along those models at home and in the workplace. The most important skill is learning how to turn feelings of anger and frustration into positive action instead of violence.
When necessary, say no. Intervene when needed. It is difficult for parents to acknowledge signs of antisocial behavior in their own children and to seek professional guidance. But while most children develop appropriate social skills as they mature, others may begin showing antisocial patterns as early as the fourth grade. Some of these trouble signs include excessive use of intimidation and force to get their own way, frequent and skillful lying, and routine reliance on cheating or stealing.
Children who exhibit these behaviors may need some professional help to redirect their energies and anxieties. Parents are in the best position to sense when help is needed, and early intervention can make a profound difference.
There are no secret ingredients to making a healthy character or a good citizen or a responsible employee. But adults can take some basic steps with children to give effective support to the school and community programs that are aimed at instilling these values.
— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.