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

Telling Them “No”

2012-09-29-14-51-51.jpgDo you ever find yourself turning your kids’ requests down? Then come the inevitable appeals of whining, crying, arguing, tantrums… You dread everyday situations where you have to tell your children “no.” You simply don’t have the energy to fight the battle you will face when you have to tell them they’re not getting what they want.

I deal with this in a few ways. I try to say “yes.” I explain the reason. And I do not permit crying (this includes tantrums) when they don’t get what they want.

I try to say “yes” whenever I can. This means I will sometimes alter their requests so that  I can say “yes.”

“No, you cannot have anything else to eat before bed, but when you wake up, we can have pancakes!”

“No, you cannot wear your Spiderman costume to church, but as soon as we come home, you can put it on.”

“No, you can’t have any candy before dinner, but if you help clean up afterwards, I’ll give you one piece.”

Having this attitude of wanting to grant their requests teaches them that you want to bless them. Sometimes their requests are unreasonable. And if we say “no” to everything, they can get discouraged. Developing an attitude of wanting to grant their requests is a good alternative to snapping at them, “No, you can’t!” It is also representative of God’s character, who humbly blesses us with every good gift.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.      James 1:17

I also try to explain to them the reasons for declining their petition. Try to help them to understand what’s best for them.

“The reason we can’t eat too much candy is because it isn’t good for us, and can make us sick. Do you want to be sick?”

“The reason you can’t step into the street is because cars drive there, and you can get very hurt if you get hit by one.”

“The reason you can’t watch another TV show is because when you watch too much TV you get a bad attitude. I don’t want you to get a bad attitude, so let’s turn it off and find something else to do.”

Explaining our reasoning to our children helps them know that we aren’t just trying to rain on their parade. We train them to think the same way we do, so that they start making these same decisions without us constantly having to get on them.

Finally, I don’t put up with crying when they don’t get what they want. Even if I’ve tried to be positive about what they can do, and I’ve explained reasonably why I must decline their request, they may cry, whine, argue, or throw tantrums. They do this because, just like me, they are selfish human beings who want what they want. For any of these actions, they receive discipline and a consequence. The idea is to help them recognize their selfishness, and encourage them to respond respectfully. Even as early as 2 years of age, it’s important for them to begin learning that it’s unacceptable to cry when they don’t get what they want. The sooner you instill this in their hearts, they more you will enjoy your children as they grow!

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Mt 7:11