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How and what should you teach your children?

How and what should you teach your children

“Teach your children” is a hit song by Crosby, Stills and Nash. Written in 1970, it reminds parents that they have a responsibility to teach their children, and should they fail to do it, as the song’s lyrics go:

Don’t you ever ask them “Why?”

If they told you, you would cry.

Just look at them and sigh,

And know they love you.

Every year, about 200 parents in Singapore apply to the Courts for a Family Guidance Order. Their action basically declares that they have lost control of their child and want the State to impose its control over their offspring. It is often a recognition that in the earlier years, these parents failed to teach their children.

This begs the question: How and what are parents supposed to teach their children?

This question may surprise some parents. They may feel that schools, or the Church, should do the teaching. Their job as parents is to love, provide and care for their children. Some may also have the view that children, if loved and cared for well, will automatically grow up to be sensible adults.

In my line of work, and seeing many families in difficulty, I believe parents have to guide and teach their children. They cannot let nature take its course.

In teaching values, there is a lot of truth in the saying, “Values are caught, not taught.” We need to be mindful of what our children are observing of us, their care givers, and those around them. Imparting values is less about what comes out of our mouths and more about what our children see of how we model and live out these life lessons. For instance, if they see us jumping a queue, what do they learn? The lesson of putting self before others can also be destructive to their souls and their relationships with others.

Next, what are the values your spouse and you cherish and want your children to develop? May I suggest that you two have a conversation about it. You might like to consider values pertaining to themselves e.g. hard work, doing their best versus just getting the best results; values related to the family e.g. looking out for younger siblings, respecting elders; and values relating to others e.g. being honest, caring, etc. If you have exhausted these, you may look at values related to how to treat others who may be different and how to care for the environment.


I recently discovered an interesting twist in the Cosby, Stills and Nash’s song. Almost at the end are the words:

And you of tender years

Can’t know the fears

That your elders grew by

And so please help them

With your youth

In life, what goes around comes around. While loving, supporting and teaching our young children, we recognise that we may need them to teach and support us when we become elderly. The song has a beautiful message that what supports caring across generations is love for one another.

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.