It is not uncommon for children between the ages of 2 and 7 to demonstrate self-centered behaviors. Developmentally, they tend to see life from their own perspective and view others as part of the solar system of which they are the center. This is normal.
But even though this is a normal part of development, Christian parents can effectively intervene during this stage to cultivate a Christ-honoring, other-orientation. Parents can accomplish this through modeling, re-directing and practice.
Addressing self-centeredness through gentle correction
When you see self-focused behaviors in your child, address them in a matter-of-fact way, understanding that while this might be “normal” you can still use it as opportunities to teach and instill your family values.
Here are some examples of common self-focused behaviors and some possible interventions:
- If your child pushes others out of the way to be first in line, you can simply say, “It’s kind to let others go in front of you. Let’s try that again and use words this time.”
- 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, “I can see that you want that. We don’t take things from other children. Let’s try again and ask this time.”
- If your child is being loud and distracting in church, remove him from the sanctuary and find a place where you can quietly observe the service together. Ask questions like “What are people doing?” “Is everyone being quiet or loud?” “What do you think happens when you make a lot of noise? Do you think it is hard for people to hear the pastor?” Try some “church practice” at home using role play.
Monkey see, monkey do. Kids will often model what they see. So if you want to help your child cultivate kindness towards other, be kind yourself. Open doors for people. Open doors for your child. Point out what you are doing. You can say something like, “I wanted to go first, but I decided to let you go instead.” Or if you are waiting in line at the grocery store, you can whisper to your child, “That man only has a couple of things. We have a whole cart. Let’s let him go in front of us so he can be on his way.”
Create a “love others” poster
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 positive training activities. Here is one activity you can use with your two to seven year old that will help to instill an “other-orientation” when interacting with family members.
What you will need
- A 8 ½ x 11 scanned and enlarged photo of all family members except the child in question
- A Bible
- Small stickers (stars or flowers work well)
How it works
Look up Philippians 2:3 together (“Do not act out of selfish ambition or conceit, but with humility think of others as being better than yourselves”). If your child is old enough, help her write the verse on the top of the enlarged photo. Talk about what the verse means and what it looks like when we “think of others as better than ourselves.”
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 her “love others” poster. Every time she does something that puts a family member first (waiting her turn, addressing a need, lending a hand, etc), 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 well she is doing with putting others first based on how decorated her family members are.
Keep your eye out for kindness
You will need to keep your eyes open. Any time you notice your child demonstrating an other-orientation, 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. You encourage it and can say something like, “I can see Jesus in you when you act like that” or “That was very thoughtful the way you let him take a turn.” Regular encouragement and gentle reminders (“How are you doing on your love others poster today?”) will help her stay on track.