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Attitude Makeover: Selfish

Antidote: Selflessness, Generosity, Consideration
"Me . . . me . . . me."
Dear Dr. Borba,
Okay, I admit it. Somewhere I made a huge parenting mistake. I always tried to put my kids first and give into their every little whim. I guess I wanted to make sure they were happy and had great self-esteem. Well, my plan backfired big time! I now have two selfish sons who think they rule the world. Is it too late to change their behavior? Help!

– Judy B., a mom of two from Ann Arbor, Michigan

If you think self-centered and selfish kids are on the rise, you're right. National surveys show most parents feel they're raising selfish kids. Kids don't arrive in this world with all the symptoms of the Big Brat Factor. Research shows 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.

Sure, younger tykes are self-centered and egocentric, but most shift into the other-centered phase with experience and guidance. The problem is that unless we help stretch them into thinking about others' thoughts and feelings, many get locked into self-centeredness. One thing is for sure: selfish kids are no joy to have around. They always wants things their way, put their needs and concerns ahead of others, and rarely stop 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 obvious reason that kids are selfish is that we've spoiled them by indulging in their every whim out of guilt or the misguided perception that good parenting is all about giving. Do you have a Little Princess or Prince in your house who feels entitled to luxury and privilege? Of course, there are some other potential reasons for this bad attitude. Your child may be expressing underlying feelings of neglect, jealousy, or inadequacy. He may be trying to satisfy needs for love and attention that have been previously ignored. And remember that some kids can't think about others because they're struggling to survive the emotional pain of their everyday lives.

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.

Emergency Attitude
Change your kid's "me . . . me . . . me" attitude to "you . . . you . . . you." Teach empathy. The best cure for selfishness is to help kids feel what someone else is feeling. Choose a particularly offensive selfish act and play Pretend to Be Me. Here's how you could use it:

Suppose you fell asleep reading the paper on the couch after an exhausting day. Your little critter suddenly jumps on you, bounces up and down, and wants to play horsey. When you plead for mercy and a few more minutes of much-needed rest, she cannot understand how you could possibly not want to satisfy her desire. Tell her you have a new game called Pretend to Be Me. Have her put on your shoes, lie down on the couch, close her eyes, and pretend to be asleep after a very hard day at work. Tell her, "You're very tired and worn out." When she looks really relaxed, create an annoying loud noise and shake the couch as if you're jumping on her. Then say, "How do you feel? What would you like to say to me? Can you feel how I felt when you asked me to play horsey?" The trick is to help her think about you instead of herself.

Suppose you're waiting up late for an older kid out past his curfew. He finally comes back two hours late and can't understand why you're so upset. You get out of your chair and say, "Okay, sit in my seat. Keep watching that clock over there; now look at the door, now at the phone that should have called to tell me where you are, or ringing from the police about some accident you got into. How do you feel? Now do you understand why I'm upset?"

Bad Attitude Alert
Pull out the stops. Start reversing your kid's selfish attitude now.

Next: Diagnosis >>

From Don't Give Me That Attitude by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2004 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.

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