This is our second post in a series on the types of misbehaviors demonstrated by children. Previously we addressed ignorant misbehaviors – those “innocent” behaviors that children engage in due to a lack of information or know-how. Today we are going to discuss the next level of misbehavior, selfish behaviors, what they reveal about the heart of the child and what you, as a Christian parent, can do about them.
What are Selfish Behaviors?
Children (along with the rest of us) generally think they are the center of the universe. Unchecked, this mindset can spill over into their interactions with others. These selfish behaviors might appear impulsive or mindless on the outside, but they are always a result of a self-focused heart. Like ignorant behaviors, they are also done without malicious intent. The key element of this type of misbehavior is that the child was simply not thinking. Check that. He was thinking, but mostly about himself. Here are some examples:
- Child walks across the kitchen floor with muddy feet.
- Child is swinging his coat over his head and hurts a sibling.
- Child is being the “class clown” at the dinner table.
- Child bothers Mom while on the telephone.
- Child interrupts an adult conversation.
What Selfish Behaviors Say about the Heart
“Kids will be kids” is often used to explain away this category of misbehavior. If we choose to view it in this light, however, we will miss an opportunity for training and biblical instruction. At the heart of this type of behavior is a focus on self. The Bible is full of passages that illuminate the fact that this is the exact opposite of God’s standard. Here are a few examples:
- Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
- Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:5: “[Love] does not insist on its own way. . .”
How to Address Selfish Behaviors
Giving our children opportunities to think about and then serve others will help to over-write the pre-programmed selfish nature that is in all of us due to original sin. Here are a few ways that you can instill an “other-focus” in your children:
- Do a Googly Eye family activity
- Create a list of all the ways people can put others first
- Use your list to create a daily service jar (one “assignment” per person per day)
- Serve others together
- Teach the meaning of empathy; point it out when you see it in action
These types of training activities are very beneficial for the underlying heart condition. But the effects of selfish misbehaviors should not be ignored. Once the heart is addressed, natural and logical consequences can follow. Examples are: mopping the muddy floor, making amends to the hurt sibling or sitting quietly in a chair the next time Mom is on the phone. Role play is another excellent way to help retrain a self-centered mindset.
Addressing the child’s selfish heart without having him make restitution to the one who was hurt will only perpetuate a self-centered attitude – the very thing you are trying to eliminate.
A Note of Caution
Some children with impulse control issues (such as ADD or ADHD) can demonstrate these types of “selfish” misbehaviors. “Leaping before you look” is a common characteristic of children with impulse control problems. While the underlying heart condition may not be present in these children, the remedy is the same: create an other-focus. It is particularly important when dealing with kids with attention deficit symptoms to focus on times when you see an other-orientation in action. Focusing on the positive can help break the cycle of negative responses to negative behaviors.
Furthermore, be on the look-out for selfish behaviors turning into intentional misbehaviors. If the child’s selfish behaviors are un-responsive to verbal redirection or if the behavior becomes regularly repeated, you will need to intervene differently (to be addressed in our next post). Again, a close look at the child’s heart will help reveal the type of behavior being displayed.
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