The form of the message, however, changes to reflect your child's age and comprehension, Levine says. Teaching centers on self-interest when children are young and identity when they're teens, she says. So if you want to impress upon young children the value of visiting an elderly relative, you might ask them how they would feel if nobody came to visit.
Parenting, Levine says, is a "30-year plan." For her part, she aimed to transmit empathy, integrity and honesty—the qualities that would make her three sons good parents, partners and citizens of the world.
But those grand ideals were transmitted through the most mundane matters, Levine says. "If you thought that they were asking me what my feelings were, you'd be wrong," she says, with a boys-will-be-boys chuckle. Instead, she might discuss over dinner her annoyance that the dry cleaner didn't have something ready that she wanted to wear on a trip. "You can go off on the cleaner, or you can model the absolutely daily frustration of not always having your needs met." Ideally, you do so with composure.
But if you don't, don't worry—it's what they call a "teachable moment." Use the opportunity to model a sincere apology and make good on righting the wrong, Silverman says. "You have to be accountable."
Ultimately, your child's sensibility isn't only up to you. "From the time they're one month old and want to face out rather than in, they're moving up and away from us, so they will be exposed to a lot of things," Kennedy-Moore says. At the same time, a few key components can help ensure children adopt their parents' values; they hinge on whether a child feels parental warmth and care, considers themselves similar to their parents and believes their parents competently navigate the world.
In short, they, like you, are looking for connection and inspiration.