We are all guilty of it. It ruins relationships, marriages, careers, and homes. It is an innate character trait in each of us from the moment we are born. We hate it in others, but justify it in ourselves. Every single errant act ever perpetrated leads back to this.
Have your children ever heard of this word? And more importantly, how do they see it modeled within their home?
The other day, I informed my five-year old daughter that we would be going through her toys and picking out several that she doesn’t play with anymore in order to donate these items to children who are less fortunate than us. I stood there watching her face crumple and her fists tighten as she let out the most distraught wail I’ve ever heard.
Stop. Push pause. Rewind. What just happened? All I could think of was Veruca Salt from the movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” I WANT AN OOMPA LOOMPA NOW, DADDY!
In my most realistic moments of reflection, I imagined my daughter pushing back on this a bit, but never to the extent that I witnessed in our living room.
Prior to becoming parents ourselves, we see children in various unruly situations and concur with our spouse that “we will never have children like that.”
Well, I am officially here. My five-year old has turned into that child. We teach her morals, discipline her (more and more frequently these days), and don’t let things slide (most of the time). How could she be so selfish? How could she not understand the principles of giving to others with a joyful heart? We’ve discussed these things in our home more times than I can count. Where did we go wrong?
The answer is most likely a compilation of things: environment, culture, and personality. A child today receives an average of 70 new toys per year. In the 1950’s, children had just five toys to play with! My husband made a rule-change in our home this year. From now on, our kids are to receive three gifts at Christmas and one gift for their birthdays (this rule applies to grandparents as well!). I was hesitant at first, but after watching my daughter open her birthday presents this year, and then asking her about them less than four hours later, she was unable to tell us what she got for her birthday or from whom. I was appalled.
Selfishness and lack of gratefulness go hand in hand. Kids get too much stuff these days, and they don’t appreciate what they do have. It’s a different world now. Families eat out more, save less money, and buy, buy, buy, often on the dime of our generous friends at VISA. We get what we want when we want it. No wonder our children are turning into greedy little monsters.
So what can we do to curtail the love of self in our sweet little kiddos?
- Zero tolerance zone – make your children aware on your stand against selfishness. Make sure they know what it is and different ways it can be seen in our behavior and our actions. Then stand firm in your discipline when it happens.
- Demonstrate emotion – imagine how other people feel. Play the “how would you feel if…” game with your kids. To ensure they understand other people’s feelings, it’s important to act them out in situational banter. By the way, screen time can dull your child’s awareness of his surroundings. It will isolate him from other people and diminish his understanding of others’ emotions. Reduce T.V., video and computer games, and smart phone usage in your home as much as possible.
- Minimize busyness – sometimes our kids act out in selfishness because they want our attention or because they feel neglected (hint, hint, iPhone users). When we are constantly running here, there, and everywhere, times of teachable dialogue get lost in the whirlwind of everyday activities. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have a genuine, engaging conversation with your little ones.
- Be an example – we are so materialistic these days. Show your kids that it takes hard work and money to buy something; and it’s so much more enjoyable that way! Give of your time to others – take your new neighbors a plate of cookies or prepare a meal for a new mother in your church. You can have fun doing these things with your kids and teach them a life lesson at the same time.
If you’re looking for additional resources on kids and selfishness, check out Dr. Michele Borba’s book Don’t Give Me That Attitude! She has several books written for parents and moms that cover topics ranging from bad behaviors and bullying to building a moral foundation in your kids.
I’d like to challenge you to take a stand against selfishness in your own home. It starts with us. Let’s go!
What are some ways you teach your kids the importance of selflessness?