For example, there was the moment a few months ago when he was having an extra-difficult time playing with his twin sister. My wife had taught him to treat girls with respect and kindness, and even had taught him to be a “gentleman”—a word that I reminded him of that afternoon when he and his sister were fighting over a toy.
“But I don’t want to be a gentleman!” he screamed to no one in particular, tugging even harder at that toy, determined to get it back.
He was perfectly fine with the death of chivalry that afternoon, as long as he got his way.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time that he had exhibited a stubborn streak of selfishness, nor is he alone. His sister often is the instigator, and if not her, it’s her 7-year-old brother.
Young couples who deny the doctrine of original sin get a wake-up call when they have their first child. A baby’s first words often are, in order, “da-da” and “ma-ma,” followed quickly by “no!” and then “mine!”
Children aren’t taught to be selfish. It comes naturally—and then tugs at each of us every day throughout adulthood until we breathe our last breath.
We can teach our children to be unselfish while learning valuable lessons ourselves. Here are four ideas:
1. Observe Christ. And follow His example. The greatest person ever to walk on earth also was the most humble. He created the world … and then entered it in the form of a helpless baby. He performed miracles … and days later, washed feet. He lived a sinless life … but willingly died for the sins of the world. The theme of His entire life on earth was loving and serving others. When my children are at their worst and need a “heart-to-heart” talk, we talk about a lot of subjects—but we often begin with Christ.
2. Observe others. And be humbled. About 600 million children in the world live in extreme poverty. Almost half the world—3 billion adults and children—survive on less than $2.50 a day. And 1.6 billion people have no electricity. (Source: UN data.) Meanwhile, we’re sipping on $5 coffees and ordering $20 take-out as we entertain ourselves with a $1,000 wide-screen TV.
The first time I told my oldest child that there were children in the world who had no toys, he was floored.
“What do they play with, then?” he wondered. Good question, son.
3. Serve others. And be transformed. Puritan preacher John Bunyan once said, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” Lessons on selflessness begin in practical ways in the home, but to take it to the next level with your child, step outside your door. Practice random acts of kindness with neighbors. Visit someone in the hospital. Sing at a nursing home. Last year before Christmas, I put all three children in the van, took them to the local store, and let them pick out toys for a Samaritan’s Purse box. Everyone got to buy something—but not for themselves. They loved it.
4. Scale back. And don’t stop. My basement has enough toys to entertain a small-sized African village. All that “stuff” leads to a sense of ungratefulness and entitlement among not only our children but us, too, and prevents us from truly enjoying what we already have. Instead of enjoying the 10 toys at home on the shelf, our children end up wanting the bigger, better, newer toy at Walmart. Here’s an idea: For every new toy you buy, get rid of an old one, even donating it to Goodwill. And have your child help. All that clutter will be tossed in a dumpster someday. You might as well get a head start.
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting and fatherhood. He loves his family and likes stove top popcorn, college football and midnight debuts of Star Wars movies. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog? Send me a message in the comments section below (the message won’t go public). Also, check out my video section.