Often when we consider what a child needs to know by the age of 5, we concentrate on preparing them with the necessary skill that they’ll need when they start for school. We want to know that they possess basic skills such as buttoning up their coat and counting to ten.
Whilst these skills are of course important and form the bedrock of a smooth transition to primary school, it’s their values which will actually lay the foundation of who they are, both during their school years and in their life ahead. So what are the most important values you should teach your child by the age of 5?
1. Honesty and Integrity
Developmentally children will go through a phase of learning to lie. This gets rocket-fuelled when they start school with the influence of their peer group. Laying the foundations of an honest outlook before this stage can really help.
Fibbing can come from a fear of being in trouble. Therefore, make an effort to ensure a child is listened to and not punished for telling the truth (in itself). For example, there can be a more significant consequence for lying compared to admitting the mistake.
You can also set a clear example that you mean what you say (tell the truth) by following through on your words and statements.
2. Sharing and Taking Turns
As infants grow into young children, they become highly aware of territory and property. However, life is always going to be easier for them if they have developed the ability to share comfortably. Some children find this easier than others. A good way to encourage a sharing attitude is role-playing games such as tea parties. Simple board games also incorporate the concept of taking turns.
Respect will be a value you’ll need to revisit time and time again throughout their childhood. However, before they are five is a great time to lay the groundwork for future respectful behaviour.
Here, perhaps more than with any other value, a child will learn by example and mirror the adults around them. Do you speak to your partner with respect? Do you respect belongings and the home? Do you remember your manners when you talk with your child?
Once your child masters the basic groundwork of courtesy and respect, you can move on to more complex teaching about respect. For example, teaching how to respect people’s different opinions.
Children can seemingly have a natural propensity to engage in loops of tit for tat. Retaliation is swift with minimal impulse control. However, learning the value of kindness, even in the face of the opposite being shown to them, will help them de-escalate situations and regain harmony in relationships.
This extends to the concept of encouraging them to have a generous spirit and the ability to give.
5. The value of justice and making amends
Most young children have a keen sense of justice (or injustice!) but they lack the maturity to turn this situation on its head when they are the ones needing to make amends. This becomes a particularly tricky concept for them to grasp when they need to make amends even when they ‘didn’t do it on purpose’.
By the age of 5, you should be beginning to move your child on from the basic parroted “I’m sorry” response to situations. They should start considering the consequences of their actions, even accidental ones, and how they can make amends.
For example, if they spill a drink, they should be helping to clear up. Or if they say something unkind that hurts someone they can think about drawing them a picture to say sorry.
What’s important is to acknowledge a child’s negative feelings and their sense of injustice, but explain why making amends is important regardless. Children are entitled to their feelings but they need to know how to remedy wrong.
As a child grows, they are moving from an ego-centric view of the world to a more outward looking one. Hand in hand with this they need to develop the value of gratitude. It will enable them to have a more positive outlook on life if nothing else.
Now is the time to start laying the foundations that gratitude needs to become an action. The preschool years are the perfect time for teaching children how to show appreciation by encouraging them to help with thank you notes for their birthday presents or encouraging them to reflect on the benefits of friends and family.
7. Considering others
Alongside moving away from the ego-centric view and to one where the child is a valued member of a family and wider community, is being able to consider others.
Young children display immense lack of impulse control, but by five they should be able, to a higher degree, stop and consider the impact of their actions on themselves and others. Even if they are struggling with this stage as an advance action, they should be able to reflect on the impact of an action on others.
The trick to developing this value is an open discussion. Talk about why someone may feel sad, hurt, angry or confused. What was it that would have caused these feelings in the other person? How would the child feel in the same situation?
This can be extended by problem-solving what can be done to make someone else feel better and allowing your child input regarding such decision-making. For example, if Granny is poorly, what could they do to make her feel better?
8. Learning to forgive
For children with a keen sense of justice, it can be easy to hold on to a grievance. Yet the only person this is damaging is the child themselves. It’s a skill to learn that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, or pretending it didn’t hurt.
This is particularly the case when we encourage children to say “that’s ok” after an apology without allowing them to acknowledge their real hurt. It can help to acknowledge to the child that it is understandable that they feel the way they do but this doesn’t detract from accepting the other party’s apology.
9. Determination and Perseverance
Whether your child is destined to fly through academics, excel at sport, or be the next great artist, there are going to be things which they find difficult to master. For some children it will be social skills, for others it may be learning their spellings. But they need to master resilience, determination and perseverance to get through life’s tough spots.
As a parent, it can be tempting to do things for your children when they are finding things difficult. However, a great gift you can give them is to be their champion, their cheer-leading squad, but not actually do it for them.
Taking this approach will show them that they can succeed even if at first they find things difficult.
10. That it’s ok to fail
Following on from this it is also important to allow young children to fail. This teaches them that failure isn’t something to be feared but merely a stepping stone to growth.
It’s much easier to learn that it is ok to fail when it’s something as simple as a missing a treat because they were unable to settle for their reading, compared to learning failure for the first time when the consequences are greater.
Therefore, though it’s tempting to step in and nag, jostle and cajole a child to do something, sometimes they need to learn the consequences for themselves so that they are more motivated to prevent failure the next time.
11. A sense of responsibility
Up until this point, and to a degree for years to come, the buck will stop with you. However, by the age of five children should be beginning to learn the value of responsibility – for themselves and their belongings.
You can’t suddenly expect an 11-year-old starting secondary school to become responsible overnight. The skills need to be being laid from early on. Encourage your child to take responsibility for carrying their bag, remembering their coat, and putting things away when they’ve used them.
Finally, all children’s values should be grounded in one overriding one of love. Loving attitudes in children are developed when they are shown love. By demonstrating love and an affectionate spirit, they learn to love others and themselves. Let them learn that expressing love is valued in and of itself.
Children learn by watching. Make sure you live by the values you want them to pick up.
We have also created an infographic that helps you to teach your children about money from an early age, which you can find here.