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Raise Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • Published Jul 11, 2008
Raise Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Jill Rigby's new book, Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World, (Howard Books, 2008).

Many parents hope they can raise healthy kids by building their children’s self-esteem and focusing on their happiness as much as possible. But the result is the opposite of what they hope to achieve: self-absorbed kids who grow up into unhealthy adults – unable to find satisfaction, get along with others, or contribute well to society.

By giving children the message that their lives are all about their own fulfillment, parents are actually preventing them from discovering true fulfillment. Parents who are bold enough to raise their kids to be givers rather than takers, however, help their kids find God’s best for them in the process.

Here’s how you can raise unselfish children in a self-absorbed world:

Replace a mirror with a window. Help your kids see beyond themselves to other people. If you don’t take the mirror of self-centeredness out of your children’s hands, they’ll become intolerable to live with when they grow up and someone else will shatter the mirror for them, hurting them with its broken pieces. Aim to raise your kids to become selfless adults who function well in the world because they have self-respect, rather than self-absorbed adults who can’t function well because they feel entitled.

Take a hard look at yourself. You’re an important role model for your children. Honestly evaluate in what ways your own lifestyle is either selfish or selfless. Are your good deeds mostly about advancing your own agenda, or about the people you serve? Do you rationalize thoughtless decisions? Do you make excuses for cruel choices? Do you blame others while forgiving yourself? Do you buy things in order to feel better? Do you discipline yourself to live simply and with contentment, or are you constantly pursuing more yet are never satisfied? Ask God to reveal your selfish attitudes and actions. Then ask Him to empty your heart of selfish desires. Do whatever you can to model selflessness for your kids, such as by: not allowing difficult circumstances to make you bitter, trusting God with your children, giving without expecting something in return, making sacrifices, displaying courage, and loving your spouse if you’re married.

Accept responsibility and make a plan. Take full responsibility for your parenting so far – and how that has affected your kids – instead of blaming others like your children’s friends, teachers, or neighbors; the media; or society. Decide that from now on, you’ll change the way you’ve been raising your kids in order to change their perspectives on life, no matter how difficult they may be. Make a commitment to God to raise your children to be others-centered rather than self-centered. Make a commitment to your spouse to live with less in order to enjoy more. Make a commitment to faithfully and joyfully tithe. Make a commitment not to buy the latest products for yourself or your children unless you truly need something. Make a commitment to spend time together as a family regularly. Invite God to transform you into the person and parent He wants you to become. Study the Bible often so you’ll be able to teach your kids God’s ways. Live with integrity so your children can respect you when you reprimand them. Trade your pride in for humility so you can effectively discipline your kids, showing them that you’re their authority because God is your authority. Follow your own advice, doing what you say, so you’ll be able to successfully guide your children.

Take charge of your kids. Realize that children need parents who make decisions for them until they’re mature enough to make decisions for themselves. Don’t go to unhealthy extremes, either: deflecting your responsibility to take charge of your parenting duties and forcing your kids to be in charge before they’re ready, or giving too much or too little (without regard for your children’s needs) while depriving them of the ability to the mature and take charge of their own lives one day. Instead, build your kids’ critical thinking skills in age-appropriate ways by allowing them to make the decisions that they’re capable of making at each stage of their development.

Meet all of your children’s needs, but not all of their desires. Refuse to overindulge your kids in ways like: doing for your kids what they can do for themselves, buying them too much stuff, not expecting them to do chores, not having clear rules, giving them things or experiences that aren’t appropriate for their age or interests, giving them things to meet your own needs (such as looking good to others) rather than their needs, giving too much while expecting too little, and neglecting to teach your kids the life skills they need to survive in the world beyond your home. Teach your children the difference between a need and a want. Then make them work for what they want but don’t need, such as by doing extra household chores to save money for a certain video game. Help them develop patience. Give them opportunities to learn responsibility by assigning them age-appropriate duties to perform regularly. Make sure that you not only explain how to carry out their duties, but show them how to do so, as well.

Encourage your kids to place their confidence in God rather than in themselves. Help your kids know who they are and Whose they are, learn not to think more highly of themselves than they should, choose to be obedient to God regardless of what it costs them, accept their calls from God, learn to listen to God’s voice (such as by reading and memorizing Scripture, and listening to God during prayer), recognize evidence of God at work in the circumstances of their lives, serve God by serving other people (through opportunities you give them), and use their natural talents and spiritual gifts to contribute to others around them and help fulfill God’s purposes for their lives.

Cultivate compassion in your children. Fill your kids’ hearts with love so that, secure in the knowledge that they are loved themselves, they’ll be able to love other people. Choose some of the many different blessings from the Bible and pray them over your children. Aim to show your kids how much you love them through your actions and words every day. Model compassion for them by letting them see you act compassionately toward yourself, them, and others such as your family members and friends. Teach them to get to know people to understand them, and to empathize with their feelings. Help your children learn to look at situations from other people’s viewpoints. Teach them to love others. Practice hospitality, such as by inviting people over to your home for meals, opening your home up for youth group meetings, or welcoming houseguests. Do some service projects with your kids, working together to meet a need in your community (such as doing yard work for an elderly neighbor).

Build family togetherness. Strengthen your family’s relationships to help your kids increase their sense of security, which will give them the confidence to reach out to others in love. Let them learn from their experiences in your family – through good and bad – that love is choice rather than just a feeling. Eat meals together as often as possible. Work on family projects together throughout the year, from making a time capsule together in January and planting a garden in March to going on a neighborhood treasure hunt in June and thanking important people in your lives in November. Help your kids see how each of their parts in your shared projects contributes to the good of the whole.

Help your kids learn how to forgive. Teach your children how to show remorse, repent, and apologize to others they’ve wronged. Forgive your kids when they do wrong. Forgive others when they offend you. Ask your kids for forgiveness when you wrong them.

Cultivate generosity and gratitude. Help your kids learn how to live with open hands and open hearts by giving them plenty of opportunities to give to others. Nurture gratitude in your children in ways like giving them less stuff, unplugging their electronics on certain days and doing simple activities together instead, encouraging them to pray prayers of thanksgiving often, and requiring them to write thank-you notes for gifts they receive.

Give your children opportunities to serve their community. Incorporate community service into your lifestyle on a regular basis. Consider participating in projects like: hosting a neighborhood Bible club, collecting and delivering needed items for a homeless shelter, visiting elderly people in your area who have difficulty getting out (both those who still live at home, as well as those in facilities like nursing homes), volunteering to teach a class in something that makes use of one of your children’s talents, going Christmas caroling through your neighborhood, and thanking employees at your kids’ schools through notes and gifts.

Help your kids make a positive difference in the world. Give your children tangible ways they can contribute to the world beyond their local community, such as: working on a political campaign, writing letters to the editors of newspapers about topics in which they’re interested, contacting their elected officials about issues about which they care, and supporting global humanitarian efforts through charities working to help those in need around the world.

Parent with eternity in view. Remember that it’s not your job to make your kids happy, but it is your job to point them to the One who can make them holy. Make it a top priority to help your kids keep growing closer to Christ. Nurture their faith so that when they’re confronted with situations in which they must decide to respond either selfishly or selflessly, they’ll choose to trust God and respond with the selfless love that will bless all concerned.

Adapted from Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World, copyright 2008 by Jill Rigby. Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, West Monroe, La.,   

Jill Rigby is an accomplished speaker, columnist, television personality, family advocate, and founder of Manners of the Heart Community Fund, a nonprofit organization bringing a return of civility and respect to our society. Whether equipping parents to raise responsible children, encouraging the education of the heart, or training executives in effective communication skills, Jill's definition of manners remains the same – an attitude of the heart that is self-giving, not self-serving.  She is the proud mother of twin sons.