12/07/2011 11:15 am ET Updated Feb 05, 2012

What Does Your Family Stand For?

What does your family stand for?

I don't mean whether you vote Republican or Democrat. I'm talking about what values, character traits and sense of purpose define your family. What virtues do you embrace? What principles guide your behavior? What's your mission? Do your children know -- and more importantly see in action -- what you think and feel about regarding integrity, compassion, tolerance, equality and forgiveness? When asked to describe your family, would your children mention proudly that you stood for honesty, courage and kindness? Your children need to know the reasons behind what you stand for and what shaped them. Your family of origin's values? Life-changing events in your past? Your religious beliefs? They also need to know what you won't stand for and why, like racism and bigotry.

Before you engage your children in discussions of what your family stands for, you might ask them what they think are your family's most important beliefs and values. How have they come to those conclusions? What have they heard and observed in your words and deeds and in how you have all lived your lives that has proven to them what your family stands for? Their answers will provide you the introduction to these discussions.

Simply listing the character traits of your family -- we stand for honesty, empathy and tolerance -- isn't enough. Here are some examples of what your family might stand for, and some questions that will deepen your discussions:


What do you think this Native American proverb means: "You can't understand another person until you walk a few miles in their moccasins"?

What's the difference between pity and empathy? Give family members an opportunity to think about another person's feelings. For example, what do they think Grandma is feeling now that she has had to move into a nursing home? What is she most worried about? What would make her most happy? Or, consider how volunteering at a food pantry might help to teach them empathy.


Can you strongly disagree about something with your parents or your friends and still be loyal to them?

Would it be disloyal to tell a friend's parents that she has a problem with stealing? Should a loyal friend ever say anything that could get his friend in trouble?

Do you have to obey everything your coach tells you to do in order to be a loyal team member?


Does having courage mean that you'll try anything?
What's the best example of courage that you've personally seen, heard, and read about?
When have you had to show the most courage?
Does having courage sometimes mean refusing to say or do something?

What did your children tell you? Let us know.