How to instill family values that align with your own

A huge chunk of your day is spent at work. But for many people, most of their time outside of work is spent with their families.How that time is spent — and the quality of that time — is often informed by family values.

Not all families consciously instill values in their members. Often, family values get passed down from generation to generation implicitly. Those values don’t ever get questioned, even if they’re not the right fit for the current generation.

But family values have the power to shape the people you, your partner, your children, and anyone else who is part of your family unit. Whether you’ve explicitly outlined those values or not, they’re present. And once you take ownership of those values, you can shape them to be in line with what you envision your family to be.

Let’s define family values, why they’re important, and how you can instill them into your family starting today.

What are family values?

Family values are similar to personal values or work values, but they include the entire family. Regardless of what your family looks like, how many parents and children it may (or may not include), these values inform family life and how you deal with challenges as a unit.

They also establish the value system under which children grow up and everyone (old and young) mature and develop as individuals. Family values can guide your entire family to become the kind of people you want to be. And ultimately, if your family includes children, family values can have a huge influence on child-rearing.

These values don’t necessarily have to be focused on child-rearing. They can be aligned with whatever your family most believes in. For example, a family can prioritize quality time together instead of pursuing careers that consume most of your time. This is valid even without children to care for. Family members of all ages are worthy of quality time.

Why family values are important

Whenever someone in your family goes through a teachable moment, your family values will shine through. This is true whether those values are intentional or not.

Here’s how family values contribute to your loved ones and relationships.

1. They guide family decisions

Family values define what you and the other people in your family consider to be right or wrong. These values can help you stay consistent when making decisions in everyday life. They can also guide those decisions in moments of uncertainty.

This is especially true when you’re tempted to make rash decisions based on an emotional reaction. When you have clearly established family values, you can take a step back. Instead of acting impulsively, what do your values suggest is the right course of action?

For instance, how do you deal with someone who has lied to another family member? How do you set boundaries with your partner and with younger children in the family unit?

2. They provide clarity and structure

Children learn by modeling what the people around them do. Because of the plasticity of their brains, they can adapt and change depending on what environment they grow up in.

When their parents or guardians follow a set of clear values, they have clarity on what is right and wrong. Values give them structure and boundaries within which they can thrive.

On the other hand, unclear values can create inconsistencies for children. They may struggle to figure out right from wrong if their family values constantly change.

And while you may have clear personal values, other adults in the family may have completely different values. When those values clash, it can be confusing for the children involved.

Defining your family values helps avoid confusion and creates a clear definition of right and wrong.

3. They help your family achieve a sense of identity

Growing up is difficult. Children are constantly trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. And because their brains aren’t fully developed yet, this process can be grueling on its own. When you add in the other challenges that life can throw at them, you can imagine how hard it is to grow up. Clear family values can help children build a sense of identity. While the rest of the world around them is uncertain, they know they can rely on their family values to identify themselves. Family values can also give the family its own sense of identity as a family unit.

4.  They improve communication among family members

When values are clear, communication is easier. Everyone is on the same page. All family members are working with the same definition of right and wrong.

It’s much easier to have productive conversations when there isn’t any ambiguity in values. This can help maintain a healthy family dynamic.

How do family values affect society?

Family values are the roots of the next generation. They inform what kind of people our future decision-makers will grow up to become.

For example, if several families implement generosity in their values, the next generation will grow up to be more generous. As a result, adults in this generation are more likely to take other people’s needs into consideration when making important decisions.

While younger generations are still growing up, they’ll one day be the ones holding positions of power.

They’ll also be the ones to raise the next generation of young people when they have their own families.

In that sense, family values are one of the most impactful components of society. Even if you don’t yet see the connection, your family values are directly connected to how society will evolve.

Types of family values

Most core values for families fall into specific categories.

Here are five types of family values that all families should establish. Not all families will have the same approach to these values, but defining them is important.

1. Relationship to others

Your family likely has a set of values that dictate how to behave around others. These values can also define how you develop relationships with other people.

You don’t just have to define values for how you want to treat the people you have close relationships with. How do you and your family believe you should treat other people in general, including strangers?

Some families believe everyone deserves respect. Other families believe this respect needs to be earned first.

How your family views their relationships with others can also help you determine how to handle unpleasant situations. For instance, how would you deal with children in your family being bullied? Or, how would you react if children in your family bullied someone else?

And how do you treat relationships with your extended family?

These are all important questions to consider when establishing your family values.

2. Relationship with each other

In some cases, the way you handle family relationships will differ from how you handle outside relationships.

For instance, some families work under the assumption that family comes first, no matter what. Other families prefer a more egalitarian approach.

In either case, it’s important to define values that determine how family members treat each other. These values can define:

  • How children should act with each other
  • How children should act toward their parents
  • How spouses deal with their children (how child care is handled)
  • How spouses treat each other
  • How parents co-parent

3. Relationship to oneself

Family values can set rules for how to treat others, in and out of the family. But they can also guide how every person treats themselves.

How should individuals act when they’ve done something wrong? What should they do when they’re having a bad day or having a hard time dealing with their emotions?

Values about how to treat oneself can often be forgotten or set aside. But how you treat yourself is just as important as the way you treat others.

4. Priorities

What does your family prioritize? Some values can define what matters to your family first and what’s less important.

Some examples include:

  • How you spend family time
  • What spiritual or religious rituals matter to your family
  • What type of education you’ll provide for your children
  • How you deal with holiday stress
  • How you create traditions and celebrate different cultures

Defining priorities can also guide your family when making tough decisions. For example, where will you make budget cuts when your family is under financial stress?

5. Dealing with challenges

Challenges are inevitable. No matter how much you prepare yourself and your family, you’ll one day have to face hardships. Your values dictate how your family reacts and adapts when these challenges come your way.

Examples may include:

  • Resilience
  • Perseverance
  • Patience

When you establish these types of values, you’ll give your family the tools they need to get through tough times.

8 family value examples

There are endless possibilities for a potential list of values you can instill in your family. In case you need a starting point, here are eight examples of modern family values.

1. Self-compassion

Self-compassion means you should be kind to yourself first. It also means you should avoid negative self-talk.

If this is one of your family values, it’s important to teach everyone in your family how to be compassionate to themselves. By learning how to be kind to themselves, they’ll also learn how to be compassionate toward others.

For example, clinical psychologist Chris Germer teaches people to use physical touch, like touching your hand, with a self-compassionate statement. You can say something like, “I’m going through a challenging time, but I’m trying my best.”

2. Empathy and kindness toward others

Once the youth in your family learn how to be kind to themselves, they have a solid base to be kind and empathetic toward others.

When you implement this value, you can learn to see the world through other people’s eyes. This can inform the way you treat others.

3. Responsibility

When responsibility is part of your moral values, those in your family prioritize taking responsibility for their own actions.

But learning responsibility is also an amazing way for younger family members to learn how to contribute to the household. They can grow into a specific role within the family.

For example, you can use a simplified RACI matrix to establish who’s responsible for what. Then, everyone can take ownership of their responsibilities.

4. Honesty

Honesty is an important value that many adults like to uphold. However, not all adults practice honesty with children.

If you decide to implement honesty as a family value, it’s important that everyone within your family upholds this value to everyone else, regardless of age. Children will learn by seeing what you do.

5. Integrity

Some people confuse integrity with honesty. However, they’re not the same.

Integrity requires honesty. But it goes deeper than just being honest.

Someone with integrity is reliable and trustworthy. They also value openness. Plus, someone with integrity will usually be responsible and accountable for their own actions.

Having integrity means respecting yourself and others. It’s also important to express gratitude when others help you. Conversely, you should help others who are in need, as long as you don’t jeopardize your own health or safety by doing so.

6. Implementing and respecting boundaries

Everyone should be able to uphold their own boundaries. But not all families make it a point to set and prioritize those boundaries.

Families who value boundaries need to learn how to communicate effectively. That’s because it’s difficult to remind others of your boundaries when you’re not sure how to communicate them.

If you have children, communicating boundaries is crucial to help them learn that they are allowed to say no. They’ll also learn that they need to respect the boundaries of other people, too.

7. Family time

When family time is part of your values, making space for quality time together is a priority.

Everyone in a family will have other things going on in their lives. However, this value ensures that everyone sets aside the time to regroup and bond with each other.

Family time can happen monthly, weekly, or even daily. One way that you can prioritize family time is to implement at least one family meal a day where everyone is fully present. This could mean electronic devices are put away during the meal.

You can also establish recurring traditions. Examples include:

  • A monthly outing to the park
  • Weekly family meetings
  • Annual apple picking in the fall

8. Perseverance

Teaching and prioritizing perseverance and hard work is a way to help your family not give up at the first signs of failure.

Perseverance helps to normalize failure. It helps children to accept that failure can be an important part of learning.

It also teaches them how to be patient when they don’t immediately get the end result they were hoping for.

Perseverance is an important skill in nearly all aspects of life. At work, perseverance can help you get promoted. At home, it can give you the strength to keep going when personal projects fail.

However, it’s important to teach children to respect their limits, too. Perseverance shouldn’t come at the expense of well-being. Perseverance without self-care can lead to burnout.

How to instill values in your family

There’s more than one way to instill values in your family. Each method has its pros and cons. Plus, not everyone will respond the same way to each method.

Here are three methods you can consider when implementing your family values.

1. Modeling what to do

This method involves modeling the values you want to teach. It works well for people of all ages.

Before you can expect younger members of your family to follow along, you and other adults need to model the behavior yourself.

Let’s say you want to instill self-compassion in your family. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it and treat yourself with kindness instead of making self-deprecating comments.

2. Moralizing

Moralizing means that you speak and explain values to your family. You need to sit down and walk them through the values you want to instill.

You should still model those values to avoid conflicting information. For instance, avoid gossiping and speaking behind people’s backs if you value kindness and compassion.

3. Clarifying

Clarifying values is a great way to involve other people when instilling family values. You can guide and help others identify, understand, and question their own values.

As a family, you can clarify what values matter to you.

How family values transfer to the workplace

Family values inform who you are as a person. They influence how you’ll show up at work and what your work ethic will be. They also affect how you do your work and prioritize tasks.

Bringing family values to the workplace can:

  • Promote innovation by providing a different perspective
  • Help you develop coping skills
  • Improve how you relate to others

That’s why it’s important for your work to match your personal values. Even if your place of work doesn’t uphold the same values, they should at least be compatible with each other.

For example, if family time is a priority, your work needs to provide opportunities for you to have a good work-life balance.

Uncover and implement family values that matter to you

The impact of family values stretches way beyond the confines of the home. The values that you consciously or unconsciously decide to uphold can shape the members of your family, especially if you have children. They can also influence how you experience your life at work.

Need help setting family values that work for you and your family? You don’t have to figure it out alone.

With BetterUp, you can get personalized coaching to gain clarity on what matters to you and what to do next. Request a custom demo of BetterUp to experience how personalized coaching can help.