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What to Do About Kids Being Selfish

How to Deal With Selfishness in Kids

Just by their very nature, kids can be selfish, but as they get older, it can get to a point where it affects their relationships with friends and family. How can you deal with selfishness in kids? Here, Circle of Moms members share their best tips for handling selfishness at different ages.

Dealing With Selfishness in Toddlers

As babies and young toddlers, kids' selfishness is fairly tied to their needs, specifically their need for an adult to meet those needs. Of course, it's not fun to deal with the "gimmee" stage of toddlerhood, and even at this age, there are a few things you can do to curb selfishness.

The first is to remember, as mom Laura C. points out, that toddlers usually have a pretty giving nature and want to help out. Yuliya G. says from the time her daughter was very little, she always encouraged any expression of a desire to help someone.

In doing that, Yuliya hit upon the second way of helping toddlers to be less selfish — by modeling the behavior and words you want to see and hear. Mom Heidi B. says it best: "Modeling the correct use of a word yourself helps kids learn faster than if you correct them outright."

Dealing With Selfishness in Bigger Kids

By the time school rolls around, your child probably has the basic nonselfish words in their vocabulary — it's the actions they have trouble with. For example, Circle of Moms member Tanya S. laments that her 5-year-old's selfish behavior causes trouble at home and school. And mom Jen O.'s son is almost five years older, but she says she's dealing with the same "all about him" mindset. Some tips for those moms include:

Set rules and expectations about appropriate behaviors. Kids need to know the boundaries and what is expected of them. In Pam W.'s house, it's expected that her children will share with each other. They play board games, share snacks, and wear hand-me-downs, and that's just the way it is.

Point out selfish behavior. The transition from being ego-centric to being able to see how their behavior affects others, is a big one," says Shelagh S. At this age, kids aren't always aware when they're being selfish, and you need to tell them when it's happening. One mom, Sandra W., says she just talks "straight up" with her kids about behavior that's unkind and disrespectful. More importantly, she provides an alternative of how to turn that behavior into a more thoughtful gesture.

Dealing With Selfishness in Tweens and Teens

Just when you think you've got a handle on it and your kids are thinking of others a little bit more, the tween and teen years hit. Tweens and teens are notoriously self-involved, which isn't always the same as being selfish, although it sure can look like it!

Some moms say it's a good idea to ignore the selfishness as best as you can and focus on showing your appreciation when they think of others first. Others say there's more to breaking through the "me, me, me" stage than that. Some suggestions include:

Create opportunities for your child to do things for others. In the tween and teen years, it really is hard for kids to see beyond themselves, which is why Circle of Moms members suggest putting them in situations where they have to. For example, Peg H. made it part of the family's routine to participate in community service projects and visit nursing homes, while other moms say they make a point to serve at or donate to local food banks. 

Make them give in order to receive.
A number of families, including my own, have a policy in which before a child gets something new, they must go through what they have and donate something to charity. This works well around the holidays, but it's a good lesson any time of year. Mom Deborah B. says it's a good way to show your child not only that they don't get everything they want immediately, but also that they need to give and do for others to get things in return.

There is no "one size fits all" cure for dealing with selfishness in kids, just as every child's reason for and way of being selfish doesn't always look the same. Overall, moms say it's important to keep in mind that kids watch what you do. If you want them to be less selfish, then make sure you're modeling how to do it.

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