Teaching Children to Be Unselfish
“JEFFREY, would you please help me to fix your sister’s toy?” a mother asked her young son. Do you, too, invite children to do things that will benefit others in the family?
Admittedly, it is not easy to steer children from a selfish course. The fact is, we are born selfish. A new baby wants what he wants when he wants it. And he tolerates no delays, as is sometimes evidenced by unrestrained screaming for attention.
However, when provided with loving care and guidance by parents, a child begins to take notice of others. Gradually his selfish tendencies diminish. Needless to say, this involves much time and effort on the part of the parents. Yet, in time, those who persist in their efforts see results.
Role of Parental Example
Whether parents like it or not, their children are going to imitate them. Thus the importance of setting a good example in being unselfish. One father observed: “Our ten-year-old son has seen us give to others since he was small. Now when we give to those in need, he asks to be included. We’ve seen him do little things for others without being prompted, which indicates to us that he’s not just doing it to please us.”
His wife added: “If husbands are generous with their wives, the child notes this and will do things for his mother the way his father does. I know that’s true with our son.”
This mother also had some interesting observations regarding the effect upon children of their parents’ attitude toward material possessions. “Our son,” she explained, “never hears us argue about money or hears us say, ‘We can’t afford this or that.’ Not that we’re well off financially; to the contrary. But we’re not anxious about it, and because of this he feels secure. We have observed that in homes where the parents constantly argue over money, the children tend to be more selfish, and they, in turn, fight among themselves over trivial things.”
It is often observed that a selfish child is one who gets, not too much attention from his parents, but usually too little. When a child can depend on his parents for help when he needs it, he generally becomes helpful. When a child is loved by his parents, he becomes loving. Yes, how a child is treated when young will, in large part, be the basis of how he will treat others in the future.
Ways in Which Training May Be Given
The importance of early training can hardly be overemphasized. Thus if a child is properly trained in his early years to think of others, giving and helping others will usually come naturally to him.
Recently a mother was observed putting this principle into action. She was overheard to remark to her little son: “Now that you’ve found those two pennies, would you like to put one in your piggy bank and the other in your sister’s bank?”
“OK, Mom,” was the happy reply.
Thus the seed was planted and, if properly watered, it can be the basis for loving action in the future.
Other parents revealed that they include their children in discussions about family matters. The father makes the final decision, but the children are free to express their wishes, which are taken into consideration. The father of a thirteen-year-old daughter observed that making his children feel a part of family activities and decisions cultivates in them a loving, unselfish spirit. As an example, he said: “Recently I went with my daughter to buy shoes. She saw a pair that she liked, but when told the price, she said: ‘Oh, Daddy, I don’t need such an expensive pair. That cheaper pair will be all right.’ Is it any wonder I think she’s special?”
Another father similarly explained how he and his wife try to help their children to make wise decisions. “While they are still with us,” he noted, “we can detect any flaws in their thinking, and help them.” Illustrating the matter, he described a recent dinnertime discussion.
“The subject of cars came up,” the father recalled, “and our oldest boy, who is car crazy these days, said that if he had the money he’d buy a small sports car, naming the make. I remember saying: ‘Having a car is OK, Alvin, but a small sports car doesn’t leave much room for the wife and kids, does it?’
“He responded: ‘What do you mean, “wife and kids,” Dad? Why, I’m not even married yet.’
“‘I know, son, but you will be someday and you’ll have to consider them, won’t you? You know it’s all right to plan for the future, but you should consider how your plans will benefit or hinder others, don’t you think?’
“‘Well, yes, I guess you’re right. A sports car doesn’t have much room, but it would be nice to have.’
“‘Then, too, son, that’s a pretty expensive car that you want. You could be driving around in that fancy car, having a good time, while your family goes hungry. I’m sure you wouldn’t want that.’
“‘Of course not, Dad. I wouldn’t do such a thing.’
“‘I know you wouldn’t mean to. But I know you’ve seen many men in this very neighborhood do just that—get what they want at the expense of their family’s needs.’
“Well, he thought for a minute or so and then said: ‘I guess you’re right, Dad. OK, I’ll get a family car—when I get one, that is. But that’s still a long time off, isn’t it?’
“‘Yes, son, but what you think about now will shape your future plans. So it’s best to think along the right track even now.’”
Is that how you go about guiding your children to think of others? Do you do it in a natural, loving way under relaxed conditions? It will have a better chance of success than if done in a stern lecturing way. Also, if you use empathy in your approach, your children will appreciate your taking their feelings into consideration and will be more inclined to take the counsel.
Unselfishness Toward Old and Young
There is much that children can be taught to do for grandparents and others well along in years. They can read to such ones who may have poor eyesight. They can include them in family games or activities. Just because these have slowed up physically does not mean they have done so mentally.
Even outside the home, in public, children can be encouraged to notice and help older persons. They can be encouraged to give up their seats to them on buses and trains. They can show respect by not interrupting them in conversation, and by not monopolizing a conversation. Yes, instead of merely tolerating elderly ones, as is the custom in some places in the world today, children can be taught to benefit from the wisdom and experience that such ones often have.
Children should also be encouraged by parents to show loving attention to their younger brothers and sisters. Otherwise, they may resent a newcomer’s intrusion on their mother’s time. One mother, who had a six-year-old son, noted:
“From the time I was pregnant with my daughter we referred to her by name, and she became very real to my son. When she arrived, he was eager to help me with her. Years later, he told us how happy he was when she was born.”
Parents who skillfully prepare their children for the baby’s arrival find that they have little to worry about, as illustrated by the case of a seven-year-old. When asked how she liked her baby sister, she replied: “Oh, I love her. I like helping Mommy fix her up. But I don’t like it when she cries. I think she’s getting spoiled.” When asked what she intended to do about it, she said: “Well, as soon as she can understand, I’m going to have a talk with her.”
It is often typical for brothers and sisters to grow jealous of one another, or to become resentful. But by avoiding showing favoritism and explaining their actions, parents can do much to counteract this problem. One mother of three observed:
“As the children grew, the younger two showed some resentment when our oldest boy received some extra clothing or gift. But we explained that at his age he needed more than they did. We assured them that they, too, would receive the same treatment when their time came. Now that our daughter is at that age, she appreciates the truthfulness of this.”
Serving Others Brings Benefits
One of the greatest gifts you can impart to your children is the desire to serve others, to give of their time, sympathy and attention in behalf of those in need. Consider the remarks of a twelve-year-old boy who learned this lesson:
“A boy on our block lost his father recently, and I really felt sorry for him. I wanted to do something to help him so talked it over with my dad, and he said we could include him in some of our family activities. I’ve invited him over to our house, but he doesn’t seem to want to be with anybody now. But I intend to keep trying.”
Do your children get involved like that? Are they concerned for others? They will be, with encouragement from you.
Truly, children who are encouraged to be unselfish receive many benefits. They have a sense of well-being and security. They are more poised and balanced. They are better prepared for their future roles as husbands, wives and, eventually, parents. And they come to appreciate that the words of the Lord Jesus Christ are really true: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.