What is Egocentrism?
Developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, proposed four stages of cognitive development in children: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational. It’s during the second stage (ages 2-7), that children exhibit egocentrism.
Egocentrism is the tendency for a person to view his environment in terms of his own perspective or point of view. Children in this stage think that everyone will see things as they do. There is no objective reality, only subjective.
If you have a 2 to 7 year old, this tendency for egocentrism is likely played out in your home. Preoperational children tend to be self-centered, self-serving and self-focused. Other family members are simply part of the solar system of which they are the center.
But just because this is labeled as a developmental phase, we do not need to sit idly by until it passes. As Christian parents, we can use this stage as an opportunity to help our children develop godly character. The solution lies in corrective discipline and training.
Correcting Egocentrism with Discipline
Egocentrism shows up in different degrees in different children. A child who exhibits traits of being soley focused on self will require corrective discipline.
Here are some examples.
- If your child repeatedly pushes others out of the way to be first in line, you can institute the “last will be first and first will be last” principle by simply telling him that his focus on self has earned him last place.
- If your child is frequently demands different foods than what is offered him, you can calmly but firmly say, “Your choices today are chicken nuggets or grilled cheese. I’ll come back when you have made your decision.”
- If your child grabs something out of another child’s hand, you can gently remove the toy and give it back to the other child and say, “We don’t take things from other children.” If it happens again, employ a time out or a removal of a privilege.
- If your child is being loud and distracting to others in church, remove him from the service and have him do some “church practice” at home using role play.
Correcting Egocentrism through Training
Corrective discipline will never be enough. We need to go beyond the do’s and don’ts of discipline in order to address the heart. We can do this through a variety of positive training activities. Here is one suggestion you can use with your two to seven year old that will help to instill an “other-orientation” and combat egocentrism.
What you will need:
- An 8 ½ x 11 scanned and enlarged photo of all family members except the child in question
- Small stickers (stars or flowers work well)
Prepare the materials and your child:
Hang the family picture on the refrigerator or on a wall where the child can reach. Hang the sheet of stickers next to it. Tell your child that this is a “kindness poster.” Every time she does something kind, compassionate or helpful to a family member, she can place a sticker on that particular family member. You can tell her that with this poster, she will be able to “see” how kind she is based on how decorated her family members are.
Training in action:
You will need to keep your eyes open. Any time you notice your child acting in ways that go against her egocentric tendencies, point it out. Let her know that her heart was revealed in her behavior. Together you can go to the poster and place a sticker on the person who was the recipient of the act of kindness. The key here is that there should be nothing “in it” for the child. Don’t offer a reward for acts of selflessness or service. Encourage, don’t praise. Allow your child to experience the inward joy that comes from putting others first. You can say things like, “I can see Jesus in you when you act like that” or “That was very thoughtful the way you let him go first.” Regular encouragement and gentle reminders (“How are you doing on your kindness poster today?”) will help her stay on track.
Exceptions to Every Rule
So if, according to Piaget, all children of this stage are egocentric, can we even expect them to be otherwise? Well, psychology is not a “hard science.” We can study trends and tendencies, but there are a host of factors that influence human behavior. In fact, about 20 years after Piaget conducted his experiments, Martin Hughes conducted a similar experiment of his own. He found that children as early as the age of four showed an ability to see things from another person’s perspective, as long as the material was presented to them in a way that made sense.
This gives us even more reason to intervene early and address egocentrism as soon as we see it rear its ugly head. We just need to make sure that our interventions make sense.
For Further Reading
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About the AuthorLaura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker with over 16 years expereince. She loves to partner with parents and to encourage them as they seek to build their families up with Christ as their cornerstone. She is happily married to a supportive husband and is mother to two delightfully inspiring children.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Values & Bias in Public Policy | Egos and Eggos | September 30, 2013