by Michele Borba, Ed.D.
Do you have a Little Princess or Prince in your house who feels entitled to luxury and privilege? If so, you're not alone. In fact, national surveys show most parents feel they're raising selfish kids. One thing is for sure: selfish kids are no joy to have around. These critters always wants things their way, put their needs and concerns ahead of others, and rarely stops to consider other people's feelings. And that's because they want you to believe that their feelings are "more important" than the feelings and needs of others.
The truth is kids don't arrive in this world selfish. Research show that our children are born with the marvelous gift to care and be concerned about others. But unless we nurture those virtues they will lie dormant. So let's roll up our sleeves to squelch this obnoxious bad attitude, and make sure our kids have the virtues of selflessness, generosity, and consideration. And here are six essential steps for a successful makeover.
Step 1. Censor Selfishness
A major step in squelching kids' selfish attitudes is simply not tolerating it. You're right: it won't be easy. After all, especially if your kid is used to having his every whim catered for a long time. But if you really are serious about changing this attitude, you must stand firm and be consistent. Start by clearly laying down your new attitude expectations: "In this house you are always to be considerate of others." Then loudly state your disapproval each and every time your child acts selfishly.
Step 2. Nurture Empathy to Decrease Selfishness
Kids who are empathic can understand where other people are coming from because they can put themselves in their shoes and feel how they feel. And because they can "feel with" someone else, they are more unselfish and caring. So nurture your child's empathy to help him see beyond himself, and into the views of others. You might help him imagine how the other person feels about a special situation. "Imagine you're a new student and you're walking into a brand new school and don't know anyone. How will you feel?" Asking the question often because it helps kids understand the feelings and needs of other people. Then look for daily opportunities to help your child consider others.
Step 4. Set Limits
One reason kids become selfish is because they are used to getting their way. So don't. Set clear limits and then stick to them like glue. Don't give in to whining, pouting, tantrums, and guilt-laced admonishments of "You're the worst parent in the world!" Hundreds of child development studies conclude that kids whose parents set clear behavior expectations turned out less selfish kids. You may have to have a serious talk with other caregivers in your kids' life who are guilty of overindulging. Let such individuals know in no uncertain terms you are serious about curbing your kid's selfish attitude around and must have their cooperation to do so.
Step 5. Reinforce Selfless Acts
Parents who raise selfless, caring kids don't do so by accident. They intentionally make sure that their kids are aware of the rights, feelings, and needs of others. This means you need to fight the tendency of trying to make your child feel as though the world revolves around him. You'll be much more pleased with the outcome: a more considerate, caring kid.
Step 6. Reinforce Selfless Acts
Of course, one of the fastest way to increase selflessness is by "catching" your kid doing considerate and unselfish acts. Always remember to describe the deed so she clearly understands the virtue and point out the impact it had on the recipient. Doing so will also help her be more likely to repeat the same generous deed another time. "Did you see Kelly's smile when you shared your toys? You made her happy." Or: "Thanks for giving your CDs to your brother. I know you don't listen to rap anymore but he just loves it."