7 Moral Values We Should Teach Our Children 

Reviewed by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Hayley Vaughan Smith, Person Centred Counsellor and The Ridge Practice and Everlief Child Psychology
Author: Hayley Vaughan-Smith, Person-Centred Counsellor

If you’re reading this article it’s likely that you value being a parent and what it takes to be a good one.

Moral values for children are an important part of what we can teach our children from a really early age.  

These encompass our individual, social and cultural morals.

We have the opportunity to guide and teach valuable morals to our children, but as you might imagine, there are many, many external influences too.

I’m providing you with a parent starter guide on where to focus your energy and effort in teaching moral values for children and why it can be so important.

a boy and mother deep in conversation

Why Teach Our Children Moral Values?

We can start teaching our children moral values from an incredibly young age.  

You will be teaching them values that become part of their personality as they grow and mature.

Teaching young children essential moral values can help set them on the right path towards: 

  • Good decision making
  • Respecting others’ regardless of class, creed or religion
  • Developing self-discipline
  • Contributing towards society
  • Building resilience
  • Respecting themselves
  • Conflict resolution
  • Developing good mental health

By supporting your child to build a positive moral compass, you will be influencing the development of positive character traits in them such as kindness, humility, and empathy.

The True Meaning of Teaching Good Moral Values

The true meaning of good moral values refers to what society believes is right or wrong.

There is huge scope for interpretation, and that is why respect for others’ perspectives, especially in difficult situations, is so important. 

The first step is to work out what moral values you want to teach your child. The second step is working out how are you going to do this!

I’ve set out 3 examples of types of values you might consider and how to instil them in your child.

  • Character building. Hand out household chores and responsible roles.
  • Fairness. Make sure that rules are applied consistently to everyone.
  • Responsibility. Teach your child to be accountable for their actions.
happy seven year old girl in a garden

Moral Values for Children: Which Are The Most Important?

I’m going to share with you my 7 most important moral values for children, based on my experiences as a mum of three and counsellor.

1) Respect Others’ Perspectives

I come from a generation who were brought up to ‘respect their elders’. Nothing wrong with that, but there is so much more to the concept of respect.

Today, we need different approaches in teaching our children from an early age to ‘respect’.

In my clinic, I sometimes hear teens telling me that they will show an adult respect, if they show them some respect, as though it’s a transaction.  

Well sadly, this approach can lead to a stale-mate and no-one benefits.

The truth is, developing respect for others’ perspectives, beliefs and morals is an ongoing process.  

It takes conscious effort and a sense of cooperation and commitment. As a parent, you’re in the great position of being an ideal role model to your children.

Children tend to learn far more from what they see, than what they are told.

Social media, TV and film can play a valuable role in setting out moral values for children but you will need to select the material they have access to very carefully in order to shape this.

Respecting a difference of perspective is vitally important when building relationships.

little boy stroking a black cat

2) Have Compassion For Others

I believe that one of the most important moral values you can teach your child is compassion for others. 

Compassion plays a key role in human connection and building relationships.

Is it already one of the personality traits your child possesses?  

We can also teach compassion by showing and being compassionate ourselves and highlight compassion in others.  

Teaching Empathy

To help nurture an empathetic child, start with teaching emotional vocabulary.

If your child can express their own emotions and understand what the emotions mean, they will be better able to recognise emotions in others. 

Watching films and reading books with empathy themes is a great way to teach this value. You can use these stories as opportunities to discuss real-life situations and talking about feelings that might come up.

In fact, giving feels good.

What happens to us when we show compassion for someone else?

We not only validate them, we validate ourselves and who we are in that moment of human connection.

3) Be Generous Towards Others

To help nurture a generous child will involve teaching them how to give, share and care for others.  

Your child can show they care by taking the time to make things by hand. Perhaps a cake for a neighbour, or a hand made friendship bracelet for a friend.

They can show they’re willing to share by taking the lead and offering to others.  

They might also show they care by sticking up for a friend in school or giving someone a hug if they’re sad.

4) Happiness is More Important Than Money

Society often pushes moral ideals and expectations on us which are unattainable.  

Often, we find ourselves trying to balance material wealth with emotional well-being. 

When we think of the meaning of happiness in our own life, it will invoke different thoughts in all of us.  

The truth is that, financial stability can bring a sense of well-being but in times of need, all we really need is each other.   

Spending time with each other develops stronger social connections which happiness is often linked to.  

The quality of our daily life, is best described in terms of good mental health, fulfilment, happiness and social connection.

5) Look After Our Planet

We know what is happening to our planet and the truth is that sadly, our children are facing huge challenges ahead.

From early childhood, we can give them a helping hand by teaching them to be good citizens of our planet.

We can teach them to be a responsible person in the context of the immediate and wider world around them. To make informed, good choices about how they live their lives and interact in the world.

One of the best ways we can do this right now, is to look to our own behaviour. 

How do we treat our planet?

Are we able to make active changes to how we live that will make a difference and leave their world in a better place? 

6) Ignoring Injustice is as Bad as Committing It

We must strive to instill good ethical values and moral principles in our children. It lays the foundations for their personal development, social interactions, and the well-being of society.

Ignoring injustices allows the injustice to continue and sometimes escalate.

If our children turn a blind eye to unjust behaviour by others, they are in fact indirectly contributing its continuance and at the end of the day, this may be causing harm.

Good character development comes from having such values as empathy and compassion, a responsible attitude, fairness, courage and generosity. 

Let’s think of an example of injustice and how we can support moral values for our children when dealing with a moral dilemma, by encouraging to stand up against injustice.

Moral Values For Children: Example

Your child tells you that they have witnessed a classmate cheating on a test.

They’re torn between being honest and telling the teacher what they saw, or being loyal to the friend, not telling on them or risking their friendship breaking down.

Such actions might present a challenge to the ethical principles they’ve been taught.  

What’s important is that they are supported in making a decision that aligns with their values.

It can be a great opportunity for them to learn about the importance of making difficult decisions based on their moral compass.

7) Gratitude Helps Everyone and Makes Us Happier

Practicing gratitude is thought to play a significant role in contributing to increased and sustained happiness and well-being.

The development of this positive emotion can have many benefits.  

For example:

  • Enhanced self-esteem
  • Resilience
  • Positive changes in mood
  • Improved mental health
  • Better relationships
  • Less emphasis on material things
  • Better sleep

Teaching your child to be thankful is a great way to develop positive values.

One of the best ways to practice gratitude is by using a gratitude journal. There are lots of the market, or your child could just make their own from a lined book.

Each day they can write down one or more things they are thankful for. It could be anything from a friendship, to a good test result to a teacher who noticed they were struggling in class.

Moral Values For Children: Inclusion and Empathy – The Compassionate Bus Driver

Mr Cody the school bus driver is a pillar of the school community and well liked by the pupils who ride his bus each day. It’s a nice place to be.

Mr Cody has been driving the Swaleton School bus for the last 15 years, picking up children from diverse backgrounds from different parts of town.  

He is committed to ensuring their safety but of equal importance to is the sense of community and inclusion on the bus.

Mr Cody, regardless of the weather, the world news, or his own ailments, always smiles to each child, individually asking them how they are doing.

He is kind and compassionate.  

He is genuine and wants each pupil to know they are a person, not just a number ticked off the boarding list.

Noticing Others in Their Hour of Need

One day Mr Cody notices a new pupil boarding the bus. He welcomes her, but she looks nervous and is hesitant about going forward to sit with the other children.

Mr Cody senses her discomfort and invites her to sit upfront with him and reassures her that everyone on the bus is friendly.

Other children on the bus noticed this kindness and followed his example making her feel welcomed and accepted from her very first day.

Compassionate Conflict Resolution

One homebound journey, a disagreement broke out between two pupils.

Mr Cody addressed it immediately encouraging the children to take turns in talking, listen patiently and express their feelings.  

The ensuing conversation led to a resolution. This approach diffused tension and taught the pupils the importance of communication in conflict resolution.

Mr Cody’s strong, no nonsense personality and his commitment to instilling the importance of moral values has established the school bus as a place of fun, kindness, inclusion and learning.

This case study is a good example of the power of moral values. Where small steps towards helping pupils do the right thing and make good choices really makes a difference.

Moral Values For Children: Final Thoughts

By teaching the most important values in a child such as honesty, respect, responsibility, empathy, and gratitude we can provide them with a moral development that helps shape their character and personality.

We can prepare and support our children in making good decisions and forming positive and healthy relationships.  

By helping to lay good foundations that focus on having a strong moral compass, we can influence our child’s life for the better, making them into better people.

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Hayley Vaughan-Smith is a Person-Centred Counsellor accredited by the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Society. She is the founder and counsellor at The Ridge Practice in Buckinghamshire, and counsellor at Everlief Child Psychology.

Hayley has a special interest in bereavement counselling and worked as a bereavement volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care for four years.

Hayley is mum to 3 grown up girls, and gardening and walking in nature is her own personal therapy. Hayley believes being in nature, whatever the weather, is incredibly beneficial for mental health well-being.

Join They Are The Future’s free Facebook group for regular tips and great ideas to support teens and pre-teens with their mental health! Join the group: Parent Tips for Positive Child Mental Health UK.