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Attitude Makeover: Selfish

Step 2. Censor Selfishness
A major step in squelching your kid's selfish attitude is simply not tolerating it. It won't be easy, especially if your kid is used to having his every whim catered to. But if you really are serious about changing this attitude, you must stand firm and be consistent. Start by clearly laying down your new attitude expectations: "In this house, you are always to be considerate of others." Then loudly state your disapproval each and every time your child acts selfishly. Be sure to state why his behavior was wrong, and if the selfish attitude continues, consider applying consequences – for example:

"That was selfish: I expect you to treat your friends the same way you'd want to be treated."

"I'm very concerned when I see you monopolizing all the video games and not sharing them with your friend. You may not treat people selfishly."

Step 3. Nurture Empathy To Decrease Selfishness
Kids who are empathic can understand where other people are coming from because they can put themselves in their shoes and feel how they feel. And because they can "feel with" someone else, they are more generous, unselfish, and caring. So nurture your child's empathy to help him see beyond himself and into the views of others. Here are three ways to do so:

  • Point out other's emotions. Pointing out the facial expressions, posture, and mannerisms of people in different emotional states as well as their predicaments helps kids tune into other people's feelings. As occasions arise, explain your concern and what clues helped you make your feeling assessment: "Did you notice Lily's face when you were playing today? I was concerned because she seemed worried about something. Maybe you should talk to her to see if she's okay."
  • Imagine someone's feelings. Help your kid imagine how the other person feels about a special situation: "Pretend you're a new student and you're walking into a brand-new school and don't know anyone. How will you feel?" Asking often, "How would you feel?" helps kids understand the feelings and needs of other people.
  • Ask often, "How does the other person feel?" Look for daily situations that could nurture empathy. Then pose questions using that situation to help guide your child to consider how the person feels – for example:

    Parent: Mom has had a long, hard day at the office. How do you think she feels?
    Child: Kind of tired.
    Parent: So what could you do to make her feel better?
    Child: I guess I could turn down my TV, so it's not so loud.
    Parent: That's a great idea! It would be a nice way to let Mom know you're thinking about her.

Step 4. Set Limits
One reason kids become selfish is that they are used to getting their way. Don't let them get away with that. Set clear limits, and then stick to them like glue. Don't give in to whining, pouting, tantrums, and guilt-laced admonishments of "You're the worst parent in the world!" This might be hard if you think your main role is to be your kid's best friend. Reset your thinking. See yourself as the adult, and recognize that hundreds of child development studies conclude that kids whose parents set clear behavior expectations turned out less selfish. You may have to have a serious talk with other caregivers in your kid's life who are guilty of overindulging. Let them know in no uncertain terms you are serious about curbing your kid's selfish attitude around and must have their cooperation to do so.

Step 5. Reinforce Selfless Acts
Parents who raise selfless, caring kids don't do so by accident. They intentionally make sure that their kids are aware of the rights, feelings, and needs of others. This means you need to fight the tendency to make your child feel as though the world revolves around him. You'll be much more pleased with the outcome: a more considerate, caring kid.

One of the fastest ways to increase selflessness is by "catching" your kid doing considerate and unselfish acts. Always remember to describe the deed so she clearly understands the virtue and point out the impact it had on the recipient. That will also help her be more likely to repeat the same generous deed another time:

"Did you see Charlotte's smile when you shared your toys? You made her happy."

"Thanks for taking time to ask me how my day went."

"Thanks for giving your CDs to your brother. I know you don't listen to rap anymore, but he just loves it."

Next: Keep at it >>

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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