Letting Your Kids Be Selfish - It's Not What you Think
As a mother of 27+ years, I’m guilty of having talked my kids out of (and into) their feelings many times, especially with my older daughter Rachel, who given her expressive – often explosive - nature, challenged me throughout childhood and adolescence.
She was 2 years 7 months when her younger sister was born. Home from the hospital just minutes before, I was gently rocking baby Alana when Rachel approached. She looked first at Alana, then at me and without a word, resolutely slapped me.
I smile now - appreciating her resourcefulness as she clearly communicated her angst despite her limited toddler verbal skills - but I didn’t then. In fact, I’m sure I forcefully disapproved with, “that’s not nice Rachel” or “don’t hit Mommy”. Maybe I even punished her.
Reprimanding children for what we perceive as selfish acts not only denies them their perspective, it invalidates their feelings.
Whether we say it with or words or with a disapproving look, communicating a strong “no” when a child shares her discomfort is tantamount to talking her out of her feelings.
This sheds a whole new light on what it means to be selfish. As we experience and interpret life from our perspective of Self, being self-ish is the only thing that makes sense.
Children’s natural ability to see everything from their perspective – their Self - is healthy and should not only be allowed, it should be encouraged. Being connected to who we really are - our true Self - and living from this place, is everything.
Follow these 5 steps to support and encourage your child’s healthy development of Self:
1. As soon as you notice your child acting in a way you previously would’ve identified as “selfish”, ready yourself for your communication: Pause; take a breath.
2. Acknowledge for your child what she is experiencing. With a neutral tone, say, “I see you’re having a big feeling towards your sister” (borrowing my Rachel anecdote here).
3. Empathize and offer assistance; e.g. I sometimes have uncomfortable feelings too; let me help you.
4. At this point, if your child is really young, explaining that it’s ok to have big feelings (but it’s not ok to hit – or throw – or spit, etc) is enough.
If your child is older, ask her how she’s feeling, e.g. Is she feeling like she wished her baby sister would go away? Or that she didn’t have to share mommy? Avoid labeling the feeling with adult terms like “jealous” or “angry” as describing the feeling is more expressive and therefore, more beneficial.
5. If your child’s discomfort was minimal, you’re done. The fact that you acknowledged her feelings without judgment and with empathy will go a long way.
If this was a major upset, suggest an activity such has drawing or dancing to allow the feelings to be expressed so that they can be set free afterwards. Explain to your child that this is the purpose of the activity, because feelings are supposed to be expressed and then let go.
For those of us who no longer have small children, say they're 27, it's still not too late to encourage them to feel their feelings. Chances are it will take some time, because by now, they may have learned to bury those feelings their well-intentioned parents talked them out of.
Childhood is our beginning. Childhood is the time and place in which our foundation for life begins to gel and set. It is also the time and place in which most of us learn to deny our feelings, especially the ones that cause us and others discomfort.
If this resonates with you, remember that it’s never too late to have a new perspective. Join the children in your life, whether you’re a parent, an aunt or uncle, or a teacher, and allow yourself to be self-ish.