Lately I’ve found myself in a perplexing dilemma. I don’t know how to teach my four-year-old son to be selfless. I suppose he is like most young children, especially first-borns, favoring his own interests above all others. For example, today when the first hot dog came out of the microwave, he suggested, “Mom, your act of service could be to give me the first hot dog!”
The real challenge for me is that in some interactions with him, I get caught, not knowing if the best way to teach selflessness is by example or by expectation. If I teach him selflessness by being selfless, the result is that he gets to be more greedy. On the other hand, if I simply demand that he be selfless, sometimes I wind up looking like the greedy one.
Consider the following exchange. On Sunday, I decided to play the piano for a few minutes. As soon as I sat down to play, my son came over and started pushing me off the piano bench so that he could play instead. He didn’t want to play duets; he wanted the piano to himself. Not wanting to reward this behavior, I insisted that he could not play until I had played 10 minutes. I’d gotten there first, and if I didn’t play then I probably would not be able to fulfill my goal of playing that day. He insisted that he should play first, just because he wanted to.
Our struggle escalated to a timeout for him, while I played the piano for 10 minutes (not quite the “blessing to my family” that I’d intended it to be). After that interaction I wondered, did I teach my son to be selfless by expecting him to give me the first turn, or did I teach him to be selfish by expecting him to give me the first turn?
I couldn’t decide. Which is it? What do you do?
QUESTION: How did you teach your child to be selfless?
CHALLENGE: Help your child do a selfless act for someone in the family.