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Loyalty comes in many forms, including loyalty to your country, principles, or even yourself. For a child, though, loyalty is an abstract concept. Most kids first feel loyalty within the family circle as they gain a deep love and appreciation for family members. Later, they'll expand their understanding of loyalty to include ideals. Your example of dependability and support paves the way for your child to learn this valuable lesson.
Respect and Love
Loyalty is built on a deep sense of respect, notes Jennifer Little, Ph.D., educational consultant and founder of Parents Teach Kids, a parenting and educational consulting service in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Respect starts in the home as we treat each other with kindness and consideration. If children feel love and guidance, they'll naturally develop feelings of loyalty towards their parents. This loyalty then expands to include siblings, extended family, teachers and friends. "Regardless of how someone treats us, we can respond with self-mastery and discipline," says Little.
As kids enter their school years, they become preoccupied with friends, academics and after-school activities. Don't sacrifice family time for these activities though. More than sports, piano lessons or anything else, children need strong, loving bonds with family members. These bonds are created through spending time together. Plan regular family vacations. Eat dinner as a family. Work together in the yard on Saturday mornings or play board games one night per week. These seemingly simple activities create a sense of cohesiveness and loyalty.
Our culture is often inundated with cynicism and negativity. "Reporters shout questions at beleaguered subjects or encourage disparaging remarks for the sake of a story," notes Little. Television shows depict family members treating each other with sarcasm or derision. Don't buy into these attitudes or allow them in your children. Instead, speak positively of family members, teachers and community members. Look for the good in others and share positive moments with your children. Write notes of appreciation to teachers and coaches. Kids learn loyalty more by what you do than by anything you might say.
A child's loyalty to parents and siblings naturally extends to include cousins, grandparents and other family members. Visit grandparents and extended family frequently, if possible. Tell stories about your childhood experiences and family memories. Hand down traditions from previous generations. Keep photos around your home of extended family members. Write letters and send gifts to cousins and grandparents. These activities strengthen your child's sense of family, and teach loyalty.
Sooner or later, most families experience challenges in one form or another -- unemployment, health problems, death or divorce. It's only natural for parents to try to shield and protect children from these experiences, but when handled appropriately, challenges can strengthen family bonds and teach loyalty. Instead of hiding problems from children, talk honestly about the issues and look for solutions together. Say something along the lines of, "I'm feeling scared and sad. I'm not sure what to do, but I'm looking for some solutions. We'll figure it out."
You probably read to your young children before bedtime, but don't give up this tradition as they get older. Children's literature is a powerful vehicle for teaching values such as loyalty, according to Gladys Hunt, author of "Honey for a Child's Heart." Look for books with memorable characters that exemplify the value of loyalty. Young children enjoy "The Keeping Quilt," by Patricia Polacco; "A Chair for My Mother," by Vera Williams; or "Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge," by Mem Fox. For older children, try "The Bronze Bow," by Elizabeth George Speare; "Meet the Austins," by Madeleine L'Engle; or "Where the Red Fern Grows," by Wilson Rawls.