How to pass values onto your child

How to pass values onto your child
Sharing, forgiveness, honesty . . . how do you pass these values down to your child?

Sharing, forgiving, being honest: as a parent, it’s normal to want to pass your values onto your child. But how do you get there? By helping them understand that our actions have consequences, they’ll learn the importance of certain values. However, this learning process is still a challenge for a toddler.


As of what age?

Before the age of 4, the notion of sharing isn’t easy for a little one to grasp, since they have an egocentric view of the world: they see life as revolving around their own needs, wants, and desires. They also have a hard time putting themself in another person’s shoes. They don’t understand that another child might be sad or angry if they refuse to share. Even by the time they reach the age of 5 or 6, a child might still struggle with sharing.

As they get older, and with practice, they will learn to share more spontaneously. They’ll learn that sharing can make others happy. They’ll also start to understand that sharing can lead to their sibling or friend sharing a toy with them in return.

How can you help them learn to share?

  • Teach your child the concept of taking turns. “You can play with this toy for a few minutes, and then it’s your brother’s turn.” This will help them understand that other children may also want to play with the toy they like.
  • Help them see the positive reactions of others when they share. For example, you can say: “Look, your sister is smiling. She’s happy because you’re letting her play with your plushie.” Show them that you share things, too. Tell them: “See, I’m lending our shovel to our neighbour to help him out, and he’ll give it back to us later.” These kinds of real-life situations help your child understand the importance of sharing.
  • Encourage them to play games that allow for collaboration and cooperation, such as building blocks, puzzles, and cooperative board games. These games help your child appreciate others’ input while they play.
  • Ask your child to decide which toys they are willing to share and which ones they would rather keep for themselves. You can keep their favourite toys in their room when others come over to play and encourage your little one to share their other toys. This way, you’ll teach them how to share while respecting their boundaries.
  • Reinforce the value of sharing instead of forcing your child to share when another child asks to play with their toys. It’s better to say, “You can play with this toy for a little bit. But, when you’re done, would you go take it over to your friend who would like to play with it?” This way, instead of making the decision for your child, you’ll encourage them to share.
  • Establish simple rules for sharing when your little one is in a group. For example, you could say: “You can only take a toy if no one else is using it. If not, ask the friend who is holding it if they would let you play with it, and remember to say please. If they say yes, you can say thank you and offer to let them play with one of your toys. If they say no, you’ll have to choose another toy.”
Be a role model
Your child watches you to learn how to behave around other people and how to use things. As a result, you are a role model each of the values you want to pass on to your child: sharing, respect, forgiveness, and honesty. The things you say are just a small component of how your child learns things. Your actions are much more important.


As of what age?

Teaching a child respect means teaching them to treat the people and things around them with care. This entails helping them understand that life isn’t just about them, and that they also need to consider others. Teaching a little one respect also means teaching them to be careful with things, such as not slamming their toys on the table and turning the pages of a book gently to avoid tearing them.

Respect is a value that’s difficult to understand before the age of 4 or 5. Younger children have a hard time putting themselves in another person’s shoes and understanding points of view that are different from their own. That being said, even if they don’t fully understand the concept of respect yet, you can still start encouraging respectful behaviours early. For example, when your baby pulls your hair, you can say: “Ouch! That hurts. Be gentle when you touch another person’s hair!” As children grow, their social skills will improve and they will develop empathy, which will help them understand the importance of respect.

How can you help your child adopt respectful behaviours?

  • Treat them with respect and ask them to do the same. By using a soft voice and polite words when you talk to your little one (e.g., please and thank you), you’ll teach them to do the same.
  • Refer to your child’s own experience to make the concept of respect more concrete for them. For example, you can say: “Do you remember when you fell yesterday? You didn’t like it, and it hurt . . . Well, it’s the same thing when you push your friend. They don’t like it and it can hurt them.” However, it’s useless to ask a 2- or 3-year-old questions such as: “How would you like to have sand thrown in your eyes?” They’ll say “no” because you sound angry, not because they understand. They need your help to put themself in another person’s shoes.
  • Teach them to respect their toys so they can learn to respect other people’s things. For example, explain that when they play with their toys nicely, without throwing them, they don’t break. As a result, they’ll be able to enjoy their toys for longer. Encouraging your child to put their toys away will also show them to take care of their environment.
  • Let your toddler have a favourite stuffed animal or blanket that no one else can use. It’s a simple way to help them understand why certain items deserve special treatment, and that they should respect things that belong to others. For example, you can say: “You know how you don’t want others to play with your plushie? Grandma feels the same way about you jumping on her couch.”


As of what age?

Before a child can say sorry or forgive a friend, they need to understand that it’s okay to make mistakes. Children don’t understand this concept until later in their development, around the age of 5 or 6. Once your child understands that they’re allowed to make mistakes, you can help them see that others can make mistakes, too.

Even before your little one fully understands this concept, you can teach them to apologize when they make a mess or do something wrong. Of course, when you say: “Go tell them you’re sorry,” your child will do it because you asked them to, not because they understand. It’s only later, around the age of 5 or 6, that they will understand that their actions or words may have hurt someone else.

How can you help them learn?

  • Explain that it’s okay to make mistakes and that everybody makes them. This will make them feel more secure and better able to apologize and forgive others.
  • Help them reflect on their own experience to help them understand how other people feel. For example, you can say: “Remember when your little sister broke your truck? You were very upset, but then she apologized and you felt better. Your friend feels the same way. They’re upset because you destroyed their sand castle. I bet they’ll feel better if you apologize.”
  • Teach them that they can make amends for their actions. If they grab a toy out of a friend’s hand, ask them to give it back. Then, encourage them to ask their friend nicely if they are willing to let them play with the toy. Similarly, if they knock down their brother’s block tower, encourage them to help rebuild it.


As of what age?

Lying is a normal part of a toddler’s development. They won’t realize that a lie can be harmful until the age of around five. Before this age, children don’t really understand the difference between what’s real and what’s imaginary. They sometimes hide, embellish, or bend the truth for fun, usually to make people laugh or imagine a more interesting reality. Your little one could also lie to avoid getting in trouble or to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings.

As a parent, you don’t have to pretend to believe every story they tell you, but you shouldn’t make a big deal out of their lies, either. A child will start to understand the importance of being honest once they are around 5 or 6 years old. At this age, they’ll find it easier to distinguish between fantasy and reality and better understand the difference between right and wrong.

How can you help them be honest?

  • Encourage your toddler to express their emotions. Teach them to use words that will help them express sadness, happiness, and anger as soon as they’re capable. You can also help them express their emotions using games, stuffed animals, figurines, or even drawing. Teaching them to tell the truth and name their emotions is a way for them to learn about honesty.
  • Praise your child when they tell the truth, even if it’s to admit a mistake. For example, if your child confides in you that they broke their sibling’s toy, you can tell them that you’re glad they told you, and then find a way to fix it together.
  • Explain why it’s important to tell the truth. For example, you can say: “When people tell the truth, it helps us trust them.” Ask them how they would react if someone lied to them. This helps them understand the consequences of lying.
  • Don’t react harshly. If you react too negatively to a lie, you might get the opposite effect of what you want. Knowing that your toddler might have lied out of fear of being scolded will make it easier for you to react in a gentle manner. You can then work together to find solutions to help them tell the truth.

Things to keep in mind

  • Values are abstract concepts that are difficult for your little one to understand. They need your help to understand them and put them into practice.
  • It’s through everyday, real-life situations that your child will gradually learn the importance of sharing, respect, forgiveness, and honesty.
  • It’s important to start teaching your child your values early, even though they won’t be able to adopt them easily until they’re about 5 years old.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator
Copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: December 2019


Photos: and GettyImages/Jecapix


Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

For parents

  • Duclos, Germain and Martin Duclos. Responsabiliser son enfant. Montreal, Éditions de l’Hôpital Sainte-Justine, 2005, 198 pp.
  • Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. “Prosocial Behavior.” 2016, 76 pp.
  • Racine, Brigitte. Le respect : une valeur pour la vie. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2016, 236 pp.

For kids

  • Rousseau, Lina. Chacun son tour. “Galette et Tartine” series, Dominique et compagnie, 2019, 24 pp.
  • Rousseau, Lina. Tartine apprend à partager. “Galette et Tartine” series, Dominique et compagnie, 2016, 24 pp.