6 Tips for Raising Selfless Kids

Behind much of the anger and violence in our world today are selfish hearts. Hearts that pitch a tantrum when things don’t go exactly the way we think they should. Those who have self control may hide their frustration a little better and avoid a lot of the negative acting out that can happen when someone’s selfishness is thwarted, but we all struggle with selfishness from time to time. Perhaps that’s why Paul wrote Philippians 2:3-4 about our need as Christians for humility and to look not just to our own needs, but to the needs of others.

If your kids are like most, they struggle with selfishness from time to time. Often cries of something being unfair are a cover for selfishness. Whining and complaining can be signs of it as well. Not to mention the more obvious greed and entitlement. Thankfully, there are things you can do to tame any selfishness in your kids and help them move towards humility, generosity and selflessness. Here are 6 ideas to get your started.

  • Distill important scriptures to memory bites. Find scriptures about how God wants your kids to be. Share the scriptures with them, but then reduce them to easy to remember phrases you can use as reminders. “Be kind.” “Be sweet.” “Share with love.” “Be humble.” It’s amazing how many Christian character attributes can be tied to selflessness. You may feel like a broken record some days, but that’s okay. You are making those scriptures part of your kids’ long term memories. They may not always remember to act that way, but eventually it will be almost impossible to forget they are supposed to live those verses.
  • Set up opportunities for taking turns graciously. In the olden days, most families only had one TV set even if they could afford more. Why? One of the reasons is because it forced siblings to take turns or find ways to compromise on what was watched. Individual devices have made that life lesson obsolete in many homes. Why not bring it back by having certain hours or days be device free, except one shared device? Or give your kids opportunities to take turns planning meals, which game your family will play or any other decisions that must be made. Don’t forget, part of the lesson is learning how to be kind and gracious when someone chooses something you don’t like for their turn.
  • Mom and Dad get a turn, too. This is especially important if you are raising an only child, but if your family tends to be incredibly child centric, it can also help. It’s okay for Mom to choose to visit a museum exhibit with the family as part of your vacation. Or Dad to take everyone with him to his favorite restaurant. They may not be thrilled, but learning to be gracious during your turn to choose can also introduce them to knew things they will grow to love, too.
  • Sports and other team activities may teach selfishness instead of selflessness. Say what you will about there being no “I” in the word team, but many coaches don’t practice what they preach. The desire to win can encourage coaches to actually employ, model and even teach selfish behavior. I first learned this lesson from a friend who was a professional football player. He saw first hand how good players weren’t expected to think of anyone but themselves and all of the problems it caused. Don’t assume your kids are learning how to be selfless by playing sports or being on teams.
  • Model, teach and encourage hidden service. Often when kids serve others, we brag on them to encourage them to do more. Unfortunately, this can lead to kids who serve others for the emotional high and the accolades, rather than because they are putting someone else’s needs before their own. Finding ways to encourage serving others where hardly anyone knows what happened can minimize the potential for serving from selfish motives.
  • Think carefully before limiting or banning presents. As the parent of an only child, who was also the first grandchild on both sides, I totally understand the need at times to discourage your kids from being given too many gifts. Some parents have taken it to an extreme and banned all gifts for their child. Sometimes charity donations are requested instead. While this isn’t a bad thing if it’s your child’s idea, banning gifts entirely can backfire. Greed can sometimes come from deprivation as well as being given too much. It’s better to limit presents to birthdays and Christmas and have your children earn/save money for anything they want between occasions in most cases. They learn a similar lesson, but aren’t denied the opportunity to work to earn anything extra they want.

The last eighteen months or so have been tough on everyone. We feel we are denied what we want at every turn. You can avoid having that frustration become toxic for your kids by helping them develop a selfless heart. It takes time and effort, but everyone will benefit from the results.

Published by

Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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