Spend five minutes out in public and you will probably witness multiple acts of selfishness. Wars and conflicts are often rooted in selfishness. Food insecurity, extreme poverty and other social problems take longer to resolve because money that could be used to help others is tied up in selfish ways by those who have more than enough things. And who can miss the thousands of references a day to the smaller problems caused by “entitled” people?
No one plans to raise a selfish child (at least I hope not), but many people do. The problem is we are often blinded to the selfishness in our own children. We can’t correct what we don’t notice and uncorrected selfishness eventually hardens in their hearts, creating adults who have more in common with pre-ghosts Ebeneezer Scrooge than Jesus.
So what are some perhaps surprising signs you are raising children who are becoming more selfish by the day?
Whine and complain a lot. Whining and complaining are rooted in disappointment that things aren’t going the way your children wanted them to go. It’s a selfish mindset that believes everything should always be exactly like they want it to be… or they will whine and complain in hopes of things being done their way.
Don’t say “please” and “thank you” without prompting. Every child needs periodic reminders, but if those words are rarely heard without prompting, there is a problem. Why “please”? Because the word expresses the understanding that they are not entitled to whatever they are asking of the other person. It’s a form of pre-gratitude.
Have difficulty sharing and taking turns. Very young children naturally struggle with this and must be taught and reminded. Once they are old enough to attend school, however, sharing and taking turns should come naturally.
Are poor losers when playing games. Poor losers are vocal about their assumption that they should always win everything.
Have long wish lists for birthdays and Christmas. If your children can rattle off a long list of things wanted the second they are asked for a gift suggestion, there may be a problem with selfishness.
Have trouble letting others be the center of attention. Let’s be honest. We all enjoy being the center of positive attention from time to time. If your child is clearly miffed when someone else is the center of attention (assuming your child gets enough healthy attention on a normal basis), there may be a problem with selfishness.
Have trouble celebrating with others when good things happen to them. It’s okay for your kids to hope that they too will one day win a free trip around the world, but that shouldn’t stop them from being super excited for the person who just did.
Melt down when told “no”. No one likes to hear the word, but your children should accept it most of the time. Asking to appeal your decision is one thing, but having an immediate meltdown every time is problematic.
When denied something, sneak or lie to get it anyway. This is a serious warning sign of selfishness – the inability to accept the denial of any whim and the willingness to sin to get what was desired.
Have a strong focus on money and/or things. Part of growing up is learning how to handle money in godly ways. That includes the idea of generosity. If the focus becomes on getting more money and spending the vast majority on oneself, then selfishness has overwhelmed generosity.
Shopping or window shopping IRL or online is a favorite past time. Your kids can’t want what they don’t know exists. Spending too much time in environments where things can be claimed as one’s own can create a desire for things your child doesn’t really need or under normal circumstances would even want.
Don’t seem to notice or care when their wordsor actions hurt others. There is a caveat to this one as some children with special needs struggle to notice the cues that someone is upset. Even they can be taught the cues, however, and change their behavior, apologize and make amends when they have hurt someone.
Are reluctant to take personal responsibility for the outcomes of their choices. If everything is always the fault of someone else, a selfish heart is quite probably a serious issue.
Make sure their needs and desires are met first before attempting to help or attend to others. This selfish trait is tricky, because on the surface it may look like they are helping others. Look more closely though and you will realize their needs and desires are met first and only then will they give their excess time, attention, money, etc. to others.
Our world is miserable because of the actions of selfish people. Don’t make things worse by raising more people who will operate from a position of selfishness. If your children consistently have the symptoms mentioned above, call it for what it is and take action to help them change their hearts. Otherwise, it won’t end well for them or anyone who is touched by their lives.
I always love it when social scientists stumble across something that is good for our mental, emotional and physical health that has been in the Bible since it was written! In recent years, numerous studies have found that having a grateful heart can reduce depression, lessen anxiety, support heart health, relieve stress, improve sleep (UCLAhealth.org) and make us more optimistic and hopeful (health.Harvard.edu). And those articles don’t even examine the spiritual health benefits of gratitude, which I believe are humility, faith, patience, perseverance, love and a host of other positive spiritual results from a consistent spirit of gratitude. In fact, “give thanks” is one of the most common phrases after “fear not” in both the Old and New Testaments. God knows being grateful is in everyone’s best interest.
This post is coming out right before the month of November as an encouragement to celebrate Thanksgiving all month. The truth is that your family can and should do these activities throughout the year. Some you may only do once or occasionally, while others may become a daily practice. Not only will you begin seeing the benefits listed above, but you may just find parenting becomes easier as whining and complaining give way to gratitude!
Here are some of our favorite ways to bring more gratitude into your home.
Gratitude Journal. It is important to be intentional about noticing things for which to be grateful. There are several different ways that you can do this. Have each of your children decorate a spiral notebook or composition book as their personal gratitude journal. You may also want to keep one as a family. At the end of each day, take a few moments and have everyone name one to three things for which they are grateful. (I recently found a gratitude journal for children to use with questions to guide their thinking at Five Below.)
Gratitude Jar. This is more of a long term activity. Decorate a gratitude container and place it on your kitchen table or somewhere where everyone will see it daily. Place slips of paper and pens beside the container. Encourage your children to write down something they are grateful for at any point in time and place the slip in the container (non writers can draw pictures instead of writing). You may want to encourage them to create a slip any time they are excited about something. (“That would be a great thing to put in the gratitude jar, wouldn’t it?!) Be sure and place slips in the jar as well. Don’t be afraid to put some unusual slips in the box about gratitude for things that seem negative, but in which you saw something to be grateful. Periodically take all of the slips out of the jar and read them to the entire family. End the time thanking God for His blessings.
Facts in Five Gratitude Game. Draw grids that are 5×5 on a sheet of paper for each person. Pull out those scrabble tiles or make little slips of paper with a letter of the alphabet on each. Going down the left side of the grid, write categories of things for which you can be grateful. For example: objects, people, places, food, books. Along the top of the grid, write the five letters pulled from the pile. Set the timer for three to five minutes (depending on the age and abilities of your children). At the word “go”,everyone is to fill in as many boxes on the grid as possible…. for example in the space where “object” and the letter “B” intersect, someone may write the word bike, while someone else might use the word Bible. The winner is the person with the most spaces filled in. (Many kids absolutely love this game, so you may want to be prepared with extra grids and lots of categories.)
This website has a lot of great gratitude printables for activities including a gratitude scavenger hunt. (Please note that any of these links do not serve as an endorsement of the sites as an entirety or their creators, merely an acknowledgement that these are a few great ideas you can use. The sites and their creators may indeed be fine, but we did not take the time to deeply research them.)
This website has some printable gratitude conversation starters. These often work well at meals with unfamiliar or quiet relatives to get the conversation going or just for your own family dinner.
This website has a cute gratitude game using pick up sticks.
Ask to join our Parenting Like Hannah Facebook Community and get our daily gratitude discussion prompts during the month of November.
Teach your kids to be consistently and constantly grateful. It’s how God created them to be.
If you have school aged children, you are familiar with sleep overs. Many parents don’t like hosting them because behavior can get out of control with the combination of lack of sleep, junk food and too much unstructured free time. With a little extra effort, you can host a sleepover that’s still lots of fun, but helps others and teaches the kids or teens attending about serving.
First, you need a theme for your party of service. Does your church support service efforts in your community or mission efforts in other countries? Contact someone you believe the young people attending the party would be interested in serving and find out if there is something your group can do to serve them. Local service has the advantage of a possible field excursion to serve or deliver needed items. Service projects for the mission field make it fun to carry the theme throughout the evening with food, music and games from the country you are serving.
Once you have identified the group you are serving, you will need to gather the items you need for the project. If the group does not have a suggestion, our ministry website has dozens and dozens of service project ideas. Our family has hosted parties where the girls made fancy hair ornaments for girls in a homeless shelter and decorated onesies for children served by a Christian foster care agency. Your party can plan a collection, making posters and fliers to distribute or physically go somewhere and execute a project. (Some organizations have minimum age limits, so call before going.)
Have fun with it. Older children and teens may want to plan the entire party. The more ownership they have of the service project you complete, the more they will enjoy participating. If possible, have party goers interact with the people they are serving – either during the party or at a later date. It will make the entire experience more meaningful for them. Done well, you may be hosting many more service sleepovers in the future!
Did you know your kids are probably mildly to moderately sleep deprived? Most parents don’t know that children should get 10-12 hours of sleep a night – especially during the teen years. Most children are lucky to get eight hours of sleep and many teens are trying to get by on even less.
You are probably aware that sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system, making it easier for your children to get sick. You may also know a lack of sleep impacts their ability to learn and remember things needed during the school day. If your kids do get enough sleep, it is likely because you figured out they are better behaved when well rested! Did you know, however, that sleep deprivation can also impact their spiritual well being?
That’s right. Even with the best of intentions, your kids will struggle in multiple spiritual areas if they don’t get enough sleep. Here are five of the most common spiritual areas most negatively impacted.
Self control/impulse control. Obedience to you, teachers, coaches and God depends in great part on self control. Can your children deny themselves something they want or want to do when it violates God’s commands? It is much more difficult to have self control when they are exhausted. They are more likely to act on impulse rather than making well thought out godly decisions.
Generosity. A recent study of non-profit giving found that people are less generous when they are tired. Children often have a naturally generous spirit, but when they are tired, it can easily be replaced with a more selfish attitude.
Kindness. Everyone is more likely to snap at others when they are tired. In fact, the generosity study above postulated that the lack of generosity was linked to the crankiness associated with not getting enough sleep. Godly people are consistently kind to others. Kindness can be difficult for children and teens in a world where teasing and bullying are not uncommon. Your children will find it easier to be kind when they are well rested.
Patience. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, meaning it isn’t a natural human trait. You know yourself how impatient you become when tired. Your children will struggle as well – perhaps even more so to be patient when exhausted.
Perseverance. Living the successful Christian life requires a lot of perseverance. Even on good days, it can be tempting to give up trying to be who God wants us to be. When your children are sleep deprived, they are even more likely to give up on trying to be godly.
Your children will fight spending more time sleeping at night. You will probably need to remove all distractions from their bedrooms. They may not admit that after a few weeks of more sleep, life seems a little bit easier and better. But it will be. In fact, you are probably sleep deprived, too. Getting more sleep might just be what everyone in your family needs.
Ever have one of your children tell you that they ”really, really neeeeeeeeed” something that is actually not a necessity? It’s important for your kids to thoroughly understand the difference between their ”needs” and their ”wants”. If not, they will be more likely to become selfish, entitled, greedy and unwilling to help others because it costs them something ”important”.
Start by telling them the story of Elijah found in 1 Kings 16:29-17:24. Explain that God took care of Elijah’s ”needs”, but didn’t necessarily provide everything that Elijah may have wanted. For example, the ravens brought Elijah bread and meat and he had water to drink from the brook. God didn’t give Elijah fruit or his favorite dish. Anything above the very basics in life are not needs, but things we want. It is not sinful to at times want something. Wanting too much or thinking we ”deserve” or ”need” the things we want can cause us to have sinful attitudes and behaviors as we attempt to get everything we want.
Place several magazines and catalogs in front of your children. If your children are younger, point to various photos and ask them if the item pictures something they need or something they want. Give older children the chance to find pictures of things that may be harder to decide if the item is a need or a want. For example, are vegetables a need or a want? Are there circumstances when vegetables might switch from one category to another? (Perhaps, we need vegetables to be healthy, but we may want a particular vegetable. In what situations would that want be okay and when might it be a sign we are becoming selfish or entitled?)
While on the surface this is an easy subject to teach your children, the nuances of it can be more difficult. Continue to revisit the topic regularly with your kids to help them develop hearts that are grateful and generous.