Re-valu-ing the Family, Part Twenty-two: “Values Therapy” to Build a Self-image for Life
by Richard and Linda Eyre

Note: In this twenty-six part column, Richard and Linda Eyre explore the recent revolution of the family from the honored centerpiece of society to a disrespected and seemingly redundant appendage to the larger corporate and cultural institutions of our new world. Re-valu-ing the family, the Eyres believe, is the only alternative to America’s demise. The sequence of the column is: A. Re-valu-ing the family (part I); B. sThe “crux” (parts 2 and 3 — why family is the foundation for everything, including happiness); C. The “curse” (parts 4 and 5 — the social problems that plague our society today); D. The “crisis” (parts 6 and 7 — the breakdown and breakup of families that allows and leads to the social problems); E. The “cause” (parts 8, 9, 10, 11 — the reasons our families are failing); F. The “culprits” (parts 12, 13, 14, and 15– how our new, large institutions are destroying the small, most basic institution of family); G. The “cure” (parts 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 — what you as a parent can do about it); H. The “case” (parts 23, 24, and 25 — a case for government and big corporations to pay more positive attention), and I. Finding or forming a family support group (part 26).

This week, in part 22, we will introduce a new approach called “values therapy.”

The trouble with so much of what we call “parenting” is that it’s a defense rather than an offense. The “experts” all seem to be saying, “If you have this problem . . . try this solution,” or “If Johnny does this, you try that.” The old adage of the best defense being a good offense isn’t applied very much. Most parents really don’t have a plan!

If you ask a business manager or owner what his goals and plans are, he or she will hand you his vision statements, sales targets, pro forma financials, and show you his offense. But ask a parent about his family goals and plans and the answer is likely to be much more general, “To raise my kids,” “To keep them out of trouble,” “To have a happy family.” How impressed would you be if the business person answered his question that generally, “To have a nice company,” . . . “To avoid going bankrupt.”

Parents, today more than ever, need clear and specific goals and plans for their families. We need an offense good enough that we’re not forced to constantly react and to rely always on our defense. The best offense in today’s world is a plan for teaching our children values which will protect them, maximize their chances to be happy, and avoid some of the problems for which you would need more defense.

In researching and writing Teaching Your Children Values we sought twelve values, one for each month of the year, that were truly universal, that virtually every parent everywhere would desire for their child and that, together, would create the kind of character in a child that would maximize his chance for a happy and productive life. We surveyed and questioned parents and came up with this list:

1. HONESTY: Truthfulness with other individuals, with institutions, with society, with self. The inner strength and confidence that is bred by exacting truthfulness, trustworthiness, and integrity.

2. COURAGE: Daring to attempt difficult things that are good. Strength not to follow the crowd, to say no and mean it and influence others by it. Being true to convictions and following good impulses even when they are unpopular or inconvenient. Boldness to be outgoing and friendly.

3. PEACEABILITY: Calmness. Peacefulness. Serenity. The tendency to try to accommodate rather than argue. The understanding that differences are seldom resolved through conflict and that meanness in others is an indication of their problem or insecurity and thus of their need for your understanding. The ability to understand how others feel rather than simply reacting to them. Control of temper.

4. SELF-RELIANCE AND POTENTIAL: Individuality. Awareness and development of gifts and uniqueness. Taking responsibility for own actions. Overcoming the tendency to blame others for difficulties. Commitment to personal excellence.

5. SELF-DISCIPLINE AND MODERATION: Physical, mental, and financial self-discipline. Moderation in speaking, in eating, in exercising. The controlling and bridling of one’s own appetites. Understanding the limits of body and mind. Avoiding the dangers of extreme, unbalanced viewpoints. The ability to balance self-discipline with spontaneity.

6. FIDELITY AND CHASTITY: The value and security of fidelity within marriage and of restraint and limits before marriage. The commitments that go with marriage and that should go with sex. A grasp of the long-range (and widespread) consequences that can result from casual, recreational sex and from infidelity.

7. LOYALTY AND DEPENDABILITY: Loyalty to family, to employers, to country, church, schools, and other organizations and institutions to which commitments are made. Support, service, contribution. Reliability and consistency in doing what you say you will do.

8. RESPECT: Respect for life, for property, for parents, for elders, for nature, and for the beliefs and rights of others. Courtesy, politeness, and manners. Self-respect and the avoidance of self-criticism.

9. LOVE: Individual and personal caring that goes both beneath and beyond loyalty and respect. Love for friends, neighbors, even adversaries. And a prioritized, lifelong commitment of love for family.

10. UNSELFISHNESS AND SENSITIVITY: Becoming more extra-centered and less self-centered. Learning to feel with and for others. Empathy, tolerance, brotherhood. Sensitivity to needs in people and situations.

11. KINDNESS AND FRIENDLINESS: Awareness that being kind and considerate is more admirable than being tough or strong. The tendency to understand rather than confront. Gentleness, particularly toward those who are younger or weaker. The ability to make and keep friends. Helpfulness. Cheerfulness.

12. JUSTICE AND MERCY: Obedience to law, fairness in work and play. An understanding of natural consequences and the law of the harvest. A grasp of mercy and forgiveness and an understanding of the futility (and bitter poison) of carrying a grudge.

There are all kinds of simple and effective methods, techniques, stories, games, and other ideas to teach each of these values to kids* but the most important and overriding method is simply to focus and concentrate on one single value each month . . . to make it the “value of the month” in your family and to look for opportunities (in everything from the media you watch to the everyday situations you find yourself in) to talk about it and to point it out to your child. Assign one value to each month and when the year ends, start over (your eight-year-old is now nine and will learn each value on a new level). Here is our family’s list:

January: HONESTY

February: COURAGE







September: LOVE




Properly approached, this “values offense” is not some burden of “one more thing to worry about.” Quite the contrary . . . it’s a simplifier. It gives a parent one clear subject to concentrate on for the month rather than worrying about everything at once. It’s not a panacea . . . and it’s not something that has to be worked on every day — but when you’ve got a minute, when you find yourself with a child in the car or in the kitchen — you mention the value — you work on it with them. You comment on your own need for it, quest for it, problems with it, etc., and the effect is cumulative — a little better each month — a little better each year, building a base of shared and understood values that become a lifetime defense against the false paradigms and larger institutions that threaten to swallow up our children and our families.

Decisions in Advance

There is one method that has, for our family, been a way of bringing all twelve of the values together and seeking practical application of them in our children’s lives. We call it “making decisions in advance” and it works like this:

1. During the first two or three years of elementary school (ages five to seven), we try to talk a lot with a child about decisions . . . about how fun they can be and how important they are. We also use the word “consequences” a lot and help the child see how consequences are tied to decisions. We try to let him make as many decisions as possible for himself — anything from which shirt to wear to which kind of juice to have for breakfast.

2. When the child is eight, at the back of his journal or diary (something every child should have) have him write the headline, “Decisions I Have Already Made.” Then we talk about two kinds of big decisions– the ones you can’t make until you know all your options and are older (college, marriage, profession, etc.) and the ones that are actually best made in advance (whether to do drugs, whether to cheat on tests, whether to smoke, etc.).

3. Even when the child understands, we ask him to wait — not to write down any “decisions in advance” just yet — to think about it for a week or two. Then, at another “meeting” when we’re not rushed and really have some time, we ask the child if he’s got any decisions in advance that he wants to write in the special place at the back of his journal. We explain that when he writes it, he should sign his signature by it and date it . . . so it’s like a contract or promise to himself.

4. When he comes up with one we say, in essence, “Wait. Before you write it and sign it, let us tell you a story about what might happen to you in a few years.” Then we try to create the most difficult possible scenario for the decision he’s proposed. For example, if he’s said his decision in advance is never to do drugs, we’ll have him imagine he’s at a party when he’s sixteen and a group of his friends want him to try a pill. “Come on — we’ve all taken one — they make you feel great.” The girl he’s with takes one — everyone’s looking at him — what does he do? What does he say? If he feels sure he could handle the situation we say, “Great — now I think you’re ready to list it and sign it.”

As we’ve done this over the years with our children, almost every value has come into play. It is a way for them to commit themselves to the practical and future application of each value. It works well with seven-to-eleven-year-olds, but we think eight is the very best age to start. The list can be added to for years as they come to other conclusions and commitments. It’s not a panacea or a guarantee, but it increases a child’s chances of making good choices for years to come.


We call this whole values approach “values therapy” because we have observed what a healing, security-giving, therapeutic effect it has on children. Kids who understand basic values well enough to incorporate them mentally into their concept of who they are develop strong, healthy self-images and self-esteem.

The ancient Greeks had a word for the cultivation of character, values, and virtue in a child. The word was “paideia.” Whatever you and I call it, it is something that can be done, and doing it can make all the difference for your child!

After You Do All You Can Do

The seven approaches just outlined are the best ideas we know for an individual family to counter, within itself, the family-destructive influences of larger institutions. Parents who make serious attempts at each of theses seven principle focuses will protect and preserve their own families.

If they are the best ideas for individual families, what are the best ideas for collective families? Can parents band together in some effective way and persuade larger institutions to do more to help families and less to hurt them?

Maybe so. In the final chapter we will try to make the case for serious of families by all sectors of our society. Then in the postscript some possibilities for your involvement on a broader scale — in a parent’s “movement” that might be hard for larger institutions to ignore. But first, the case.

In the nest installment (article 23) we will start this “case” as see if you will agree that there are several things that larger institutions could do to help families.


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.