Selfish Children

076Other people’s selfish children can be annoying. But when it’s your own child being selfish, it can be downright disheartening. It’s embarrassing to see your child shamelessly display incredible self-centeredness in public.

I believe the best way to teach your children generosity is by example. Jesus is the ultimate example of generosity, and if you are not following His example, probably your children aren’t either. Do your children hear you calling them, “Hey guys, come here! I have a treat to share with you!” Or are they used to, “No! Get away from that! That’s mine, don’t touch it!” Does your home teach your children the joy of generosity, or the burdensome task carefully guarding your stuff for yourself?

Secondly, children need to have the freedom to be selfish if they are to learn genuine generosity. If they are being forced to share their stuff with others, then they are not really learning to do so. They will likely spring back to selfishness as soon as the authority figure leaves the room. They need to know their stuff is theirs. Theirs to keep. Theirs to give.  

When selfish hearts get vocal at our house, the envied toy automatically goes to the person to whom it belongs. The other child may then politely ask for permission to play with it. The owner of the toy gets to make the ultimate decision whether to share or not, but they are strongly encouraged to do so. Here are some questions I often ask to get them thinking about generosity:

  • “Do you like it when I share my ice cream [or other item you’ve recently shared] with you?” (Of course the answer is, “Yes.”) “Then you should also share your stuff with your brother.”
  • “I think it would really bless your brother if you let him play with it. Would you like to bless him by letting him play with it for a little while?”
  • “You can say ‘no’ if you want to, but that’s called ‘selfishness.’ It’s wrong to be selfish, and it makes Jesus sad when we’re selfish. Would you rather share like Jesus shares?”
  • “Jesus is very kind to us, isn’t He? He always shares His stuff with us, and He says that we should be like Him and share our stuff with others.”

When children are given the freedom to share and the freedom to be selfish, they will better own their decision. As you point to Jesus’ example of generosity and imitate it yourself, you will likely see your children follow in your footsteps.

And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us… Ephesians 5:2

The Goal Is Reconciliation

005-6.jpgIn correcting and disciplining our children, it’s important to remember the goal: Reconciliation.  Whether our child is being corrected for hitting, being selfish, being rude, etc., make it your goal to reconcile them to the person offended, and ultimately to God.  Avoid being simply corrective: “Stop that!” “That was his first, give it back!” “Don’t talk to me like that!”  It’s easy to adopt the attitude of, “Stop sinning because it’s irritating me.” There’s no reconciliation in that. Our privilege as parents is to train them to be kind, compassionate, responsible people for their own good. The byproduct is that we parents are also blessed by their good behavior.  A child who is never given the opportunity to reconcile their wrongs is likely to feel angry and insecure.

Think of the way God confronts us. He causes us to recognize our sin. We repent, and He forgives us. We can follow this example by pointing out our child’s sin, giving them the opportunity to apologize to the offended, encouraging the victim to verbally forgive them.  You don’t even need to make your child apologize most of the time. Showing them your disapproval of their behavior is usually enough to make them feel remorse for their actions. Appeal to their conscience. Appeal to God’s laws and biblical truth. By doing this you are teaching them to respect authority.  When they apologize, make sure they say what they’re sorry for. This helps them to own their sin, rather than mumbling out an insincere apology.  Whether you’re the victim of their crime, or another child is, follow through with the reconciliation process by insisting on genuine forgiveness. After we declare that the offender is forgiven, we don’t need to remind them of our disappointment, disapproval, or irritation. Pay close attention to your facial expression! If you still have irritation in your eyes, be confident that they will notice! Smile lovingly, and encourage them to have fun as they return to their play.

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation… 2 Cor. 5:18