We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results. –Herman Melville
In our society, everything is so push-button, immediate gratification, and end-result oriented. But at some point, our children have to enter the real world and realize it doesn’t revolve around them. How do you teach your children to be less self-centered and more outward focused?
Personally, I’m trying to teach my kids to be kind to others. To slow down, unplug, and enjoy the little things. I taught my oldest how to sew. Screen-free week was a hit (mostly). We grow things like butterflies and raisins and gardens. We earn allowance and save for things.
Currently, we’re focusing on service as a family. Every time we do something nice for someone, we write it on a cutout of a hand print and tape it to the laundry room door. It’s been kind of fun.
We feed baby animals or visit a nursing home or donate toys to less fortunate kids. At Christmas we sneak around the house and do secret deeds for each other. A few times for my son’s birthday, which is near Thanksgiving, he has asked for canned food rather than presents and then donates them to a food drive.
Hopefully all these mini lessons will eventually sink in and help them to be more patient, less self-centered little people who will mature into more giving grownups.
How do you teach your children to be less self-centered and more outward focused? When asked this question, our community responded via Facebook and Instagram with a few common themes:
It requires training: “I have worked to train my kids in respect and service just like I train them in everything else. When we’re at a school event such as a play or talent show or something else where we are in an audience, I tell them to sit quietly and also remind them the reason WHY. Because we want to be respectful of those around us. When our part in the performance is finished, we may not need to be there anymore, but we don’t leave because we want to show respect for the others who sat through our performances. We also don’t stand up to take photos or video because we might block someone else’s view.”
“I teach my son to hold doors for me and his sisters, and if we ever see elderly people we hold doors for them and we help them (like my son taking our umbrella to walk an older lady out to her car). They’re still young, so I do still have to often suggest these things to them in the moment, but I’ve started to see them do it on their own. I’ve seen them jump in and start putting away chairs after an event, or when we are early to an event and things are still being set up, they’ll ask what they can do to help.” – Kasey Quackenbush Tross
“I’ve been playing the “Imagine if I were…” game with my 3-year-old lately. It goes something along the lines of, “If I were a X then I’d live in Y and I’d eat Z.” I say the sentences and she chooses the words. The other day she was a snail who lived under the sea and ate spinach! It’s pretty small in relation to your question, but I like to think that it gets her thinking about everything around her and what it’s like to be someone or something else.” – Vanessa Robinson
“Getting backyard chickens has been a fun way to teach our kids to care for something else and how to work for results. In this case, fresh eggs!” – @everyday.loving
Direct conversations to what kids have done for others that day: “Our nighttime routine consists of asking a few questions: 1) Sweet of the day 2) Sour of the day 3) Service: What did you do to serve one another? They know I will ask every night, so they make sure they are prepared with an answer.” – @lizwhitehorn
“Every night at the dinner table, I ask, “What did you do to help someone else today?” – Kasey Quackenbush Tross
Focus on service: “Get out and serve is my best answer.” – @lizwhitehorn
Take them to volunteer at a food bank, homeless shelter, or refugee center. Have them sort their belongings and find items they can donate to needy families.
“Make service a bigger focus. Teach them in small, simple ways every day to notice needs and do something about it. The website Pennies of Time is a fantastic resource for teaching kids kindness and noticing all kinds of needs.” – @marisaneyenhuis
“One of my most memorable experiences growing up was going shopping for bunches of socks and underwear during Black Friday sales. My mom then took all six of us kids to the local homeless shelter where we personally gave them to the men who lived there. On the drive over she asked us to think about how much we’d appreciate some fresh socks and underwear if we only owned a few clothing items. I’ve never forgotten that and try to do something similar with my kids each year.” – @nolliehaws
Teach patience: “Don’t give them everything they ask for right away. Teach them to save money to buy something they really want and not to buy every impulse thing they want at the store. Teach them to work hard at home with no monetary reward. Teach them the difference between wants and needs” – Cheryl Bevan Cardall
“This is one reason we use the library regularly. We have to wait for books and movies and we have to be aware of time to get things back without a fine.” – Ande Andrus Beckstrand
“I’ve tried to teach my kids to watch for sales. Example: We ran out of their favorite cereal. Instead of going out and getting the replacement, they know to start watching at the store for the sale tag to replace it.” – Hollie Jones
It will require some effort on your part to combat kids’ natural egocentrism, but it’s a battle worth fighting.
QUESTION: What do you do to help your kids avoid an attitude of entitlement? We’d love to hear your suggestions!
CHALLENGE: Make plans to discuss this issue with your spouse or a trusted friend. Make plans together about how you will help your kids avoid becoming “selfie-centered.”
Edited by Sarah Monson.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Anna Jenkins.