Is Your Child Selfish? Here’s An Action Plan.

I recently received this question in the Reboot Your Kids Facebook group.

“Let’s talk about the label ‘selfish’ as it is applied to children between the ages of 5-15. I am curious what you think.”

It’s a great question. The selfish label is used early and often by most parents and is quite destructive.

I did a little Google search for dealing with selfish children because I wanted to see what the mainstream advice was. I came across a convenient checklist.

My, oh my. A checklist for determining whether your child is selfish or not! Here are some of my favorites:

“Refuses to help in the home.”

“Lack of respect for parents.”

“Bad temper.”

“Excessively angry when everything doesn’t go as one wants.”

“Tries to control others.”

“Curses excessively.”

“Expects automatic compliance with his or her expectations.”

“Manipulative.”

“Taking others possessions.”

“Lacks empathy.”

I could literally go on and on. And on. And on. (It’s a damn long checklist).

Do you want to know what this checklist would be REALLY good for?

It would be PERFECT for determining how selfish mom and dad are!

Let’s start with “lack of respect.” In mainstream households, children are completely disrespected at nearly every turn. They’re given very little autonomy, corrected every five seconds, told what to do, hit, yelled at, ignored, teased, belittled, isolated, and punished.

You don’t teach kids to respect others by disrespecting them. You wouldn’t respect your boss if he spent the majority of the day disrespecting you, would you? Why do we think children are any different?

“Excessively angry when everything doesn’t go as one wants” and “tries to control others.” Wow, if that doesn’t describe mainstream parenting I don’t know what does. “Do it now! Because I said so!” Zero negotiation, zero empathy. 100% CONTROL.

If the child defies that order, guess what happens next? Yelling. Anger. Raging. Or hitting. I think parents call that “a temper tantrum.” Except it’s the parents who throw it.

How about “manipulative?” Parents are tricking children all the time. You’re smarter and have more experience so it’s easy to do, right? Yep, it’s also manipulative. And kids who are manipulated learn to manipulate. It’s that simple. (punishments and rewards, by nature, are manipulative as well).

“Taking others’ possessions.” One of my favorites. “No ma’am, you MUST share!” (Parent snatches object or forces child to give it to another child). That’s not sharing, that’s stealing. And you just taught your child that there’s no such thing as property and things can just be taken by force. Well guess what? It’s perfectly logical for a child to think, “if there’s no such thing as property, then I can take things from others the same way they were taken from me.” Don’t punish your child for being logical and for copying exactly what you just did — that’s silly.

“Lacks empathy.” Uh huh. Have any of these examples been a clear illustration of empathetic behavior? Of course not. So, children are just magically supposed to have empathy in an environment where they’re offered none? That’s a pretty tall order.

So, what have we learned about selfishness? The BEST way to determine selfishness in a child is to have the parent look in the mirror. 

We need to stop putting these labels on children as if parents have nothing to do with it. Everyone is obsessed with diagnosing children and “solving the child’s problem” when the problem is almost always created by the adult.

Let’s start solving our own problems so that our children can benefit by having stronger, healthier leaders and so we can stop falsely passing blame to them (and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in the process).

Kevin

60 comments
  • Jarrod

    I am guilty of the property issue. That is one of the best explanations. I’m an only child and have been told all my life I was selfish. I would share something’s I wasn’t partial to, that’s sharing right?

    • Steve

      I hate to put it this way but the author is an idiot.

      Bleeding heart moron from the age of selfish kids, parents and adults. I truly feel sorry for the world that children today are being raised in. Entitlement, lack of respect, rage at not getting what they want immediately, manipulative behavior comes from the pop psychology idiots.

      We have allowed things to get out of control and these idiots have become the knowledge base and legal standard. Hopefully, I’ll be dead before they finish screwing up my children’s children so that I don’t have to see it.

      • Kevin Geary

        Hi Steve, you’re welcome to craft a thoughtful, logical argument to anything I’ve said. Until then, most people are going to assume that you’re simply emotional, reactive, and intellectually undeveloped.

        • Mark

          Kevin, I agree with one of the other commenters. Giving advice to parents about raising their children is a serious matter. Your advice is very misguided and I trust most thinking adults pick up on that right away. Kids need boundaries and thrive when they know the families behavioral expectations, and are held to them. Those that follow your advice are in for a difficult ride, and will end up with difficult, entitled children.

          • Kevin Geary

            Your advice is very misguided and I trust most thinking adults pick up on that right away.

            This is not an argument. You’re welcome to make an argument. Until then, this is nothing more than a veiled personal attack.

            Kids need boundaries…

            You’re more than welcome to find a quote from me where I have said that kids don’t need boundaries or where I have advocated for *not* setting limits or boundaries. Until then, this is nothing more than an attempt to misguide and manipulate people who are reading your comment.

            Those that follow your advice are in for a difficult ride, and will end up with difficult, entitled children.

            This is not an argument. You’re welcome to make an argument. Until then, your existence in this thread is without value.

        • Lorraine

          I agree with Steve. Have you ever negotiated until you are blue in the face with a child? Most times we should just say NO! Children cannot raise themselves. They need strong, loving parents who say NO.

          • Kevin Geary

            I have no idea what you’re talking about because I’ve clearly argued that limits and boundaries are a necessity. If you’re going to disagree with me, you may want to actually know what my position is before doing so.

        • Carolyn

          I looked on the internet to learn more about children and selfishness and read your article. All I can say is that it was not helpful and offered poor advice. Worse is your defensiveness to the other replies.

        • Anun

          Wow. You seem mentally ill to me, by your responses to the commentary on your article. What is wrong with you? Are you just trolling? Is this just clickbait? You should not be parenting anyone. Just wow.

      • Veronica

        I agree to some degree with Steve. Just because they are minors doesn’t mean they should not be held accountable for bad behaviour. It is so so easy to blame the parents. Scapegoats.
        There is no absolute right and wrong. Correct parenting is the hardest job, and most responsible, anyone will ever undertake.

        Our consumer society, advertising, peer pressure in schools. etc, puts parents under immense pressure to supply what children want. Also children under pressure to get what they are conditioned to see as a need. An entitlement So it’s a vicious circle.

        There has to be space here for children with behavioural problems.
        Parents can only do their best .
        Children are part of society to and society must be held responsible to for children’s behaviour.too. Children are away from home influence up to 8 hours per day.

      • Ashley R McKinney

        Emotional, reactive and intellectually underdeveloped is the perfect description of most children. While I won’t agree with Steve for calling you an idiot, I can’t agree with your retort. There are so many people presently who are letting their children raise themselves and taking too much advise from Internet articles. Children need limits and boundaries and due to their biological makeup and still developing brains are incapable of governing their own lives. I believe in free range parenting but I believe we as parents have the responsibility as care takers to be disciplinariana so we raise conscious individuals. Being too lax or too stern is unhealthy. As with most life’s challenges one must find balance. I do agree that we have to be the best we can be and our children should expect no less than that. Children learn what they live. Pure Simple truth.

        • Kevin Geary

          I can’t agree with your retort. There are so many people presently who are letting their children raise themselves and taking too much advise from Internet articles. Children need limits and boundaries and due to their biological makeup and still developing brains are incapable of governing their own lives.

          This is getting extremely tiresome. Anyone who has been on this site for longer than 5 minutes knows that I preach limits and boundaries and authentic leadership endlessly.

          I believe in free range parenting but I believe we as parents have the responsibility as care takers to be disciplinariana so we raise conscious individuals.

          This site is not about “free range parenting.” It’s about authentic parenting. I don’t know what “being a disciplinarian” means—that’s an undefined term.

          Your comment is without value because it’s born out of a total lack of understanding of anything we’re doing here. Please spend more time reading and listening to the content I provide so you can get a clearer picture. You’re obviously making tons of assumptions.

      • Patty Williamson

        Some of what the author said is true, children do learn from examples..parentsAND others. Unfortunately, it seems aa if people are becoming more selfish. I see children out shopping with mom and they sit in the shopping cart staring blankly aa,mom talks on the phone. It screams, “You are not important enough to talk to ” On the other hand, I see extremely permissive parents raising little monsters. What can we do? Be good examples, be kind but disciplined. The author’s response to you was rude, it was a good example of what we should not teach children. I understand your frustration.
        Sincerely,
        Party from Texas

    • To be chille

      Seriously this is the amateur psychobabble of an uneducated self grandiosing externally deprecating individual,based on limited evidence and generalising this tacit evidence to put down parents who are trying their very best, So let’s not label children until we have sorted out the parents actually let’s not label anyone or anything and see where we end up drive your tree to work and see how labels fit then. If a child has an issue that is unhelpful or is going to hinder his development in life it our job to isolate and eradicate that behaviour as best we can. By your rationale parents should be detained for children’s illegal activities . If they have an issue let’s isolate it validate it test it again then help the child overcome it

  • Claudia

    I became aware of how much I was just repeating a learned pattern when I would be reprimanding my children and a voice in my head was saying … are you speaking to them or to you? I am conscious that children are simply copying our behaviour and mirroring it back to us or applying it to their siblings. The change begins with us, no matter how daunting a task it seems! Thanks Kevin!

    • RJ

      Great article Kevin. I started reading the description of “what constitutes selfish” and, before you said it, thought to myself that this describes me at times. A wake-up call. thanks.

      So sorry you have to deal with people that just attack rather than maturely present well thought out responses. Dialogue people dialogue.

  • Tom

    This is a dreadful article full of straw man argumentation, confirmation bias and poor reasoning.

    Your idea that mainstream (which means the current thought of the majority) households think it’s ok to hit, yell, belittle and neglect their children is very wide of the mark. It would even be wide of the mark in the 1950’s. I personally think that your definition of mainstream is anyone that doesn’t pay you for your ‘advice’. You are manipulating people like poor Loreen into thinking they are awful demon parents unless they buy your book.

    I think you should read your paragraph about sharing again, this time with a dictionary as you don’t seem to understand concepts like stealing, sharing or ownership.

    Selfishness and a lack of empathy are traits that many children show, and they are not intensified because a child was told off, corrected for making a mistake or any of the daft reasons you state. They occur naturally as children haven’t a fully developed theory of mind (you really should be aware of this concept if you want to continue writing about child development). Selfishness and a lack of empathy are often tell tale signs of mental or neurological disorders and as such it is perfectly correct to take your child to a doctor if this problem, and it is a problem, persists – especially into puberty.

    Your assertion that if a child is selfish, manipulative and lacking empathy (or all 3) then the parent is also selfish, manipulative and lacking empathy is as laughable as it is offensive.

    You do realise that raising children, and giving advice on the raising of children, is a serious thing right? Immature and incorrect articles like this can have a serious detrimental affect on people’s lives. Don’t drink this mans kool aid.

    • Kevin Geary

      Your idea that mainstream (which means the current thought of the majority) households think it’s ok to hit, yell, belittle and neglect their children is very wide of the mark. I personally think that your definition of mainstream is anyone that doesn’t pay you for your ‘advice’.

      The statistics disagree with you. 90% of parents admit to spanking their children. The average child is spanked 936 times a year.

      You are manipulating people like poor Loreen into thinking they are awful demon parents unless they buy your book.

      Right. I started a blog and wrote a bunch of free articles, recorded free podcasts, paid for all the hosting and design costs, just so I can sell a book on Amazon for $3.99. Brilliant.

      I think you should read your paragraph about sharing again, this time with a dictionary as you don’t seem to understand concepts like stealing, sharing or ownership.

      I’m halfway through your comment and still waiting for you to make an argument. Instead, all I hear is a mindless emotional outburst. Care to show how I’ve misused any of these words? Or do you just want people to take your word for it?

      Selfishness and a lack of empathy are traits that many children show, and they are not intensified because a child was told off, corrected for making a mistake or any of the daft reasons you state. They occur naturally as children haven’t a fully developed theory of mind (you really should be aware of this concept if you want to continue writing about child development). Selfishness and a lack of empathy are often tell tale signs of mental or neurological disorders and as such it is perfectly correct to take your child to a doctor if this problem, and it is a problem, persists – especially into puberty.

      So your argument is that parenting has no influence on selfishness or a lack of empathy and that if your child doesn’t magically snap out of it, you should take them to a doctor?

      Your assertion that if a child is selfish, manipulative and lacking empathy (or all 3) then the parent is also selfish, manipulative and lacking empathy is as laughable as it is offensive.

      So, you believe that there’s no such thing as behavior modeling? Children simply are born a certain way and the parents have no influence in the outcome? And you call me laughable? Come on, sir. You can’t be serious.

  • Tom

    (Sorry, I’m not sure how to do the quotes, is it [quote][/quote]?)

    “The statistics disagree with you. 90% of parents admit to spanking their children. The average child is spanked 936 times a year.”

    Do those statistics not seem ridiculous to you? You really believe the report that says an average 4 year old is spanked over 2.5 times a day? I’ll point you towards a rebuttal of that appalling study you are quoting http://groundedparents.com/2014/05/05/1000-spankings-a-year-i-think-not/ . I’m assuming you just read a tabloid headline saying “CHILDREN ARE SPANKED 936 TIMES A YEAR” and believed it without doing any actual research yourself, you know, like a professional in the area would do. This is another example of your confirmation bias.

    “Right. I started a blog and wrote a bunch of free articles, recorded free podcasts, paid for all the hosting and design costs, just so I can sell a book on Amazon for $3.99. Brilliant.”

    So you admit to making money off peddling nonsense to the easily manipulated? Glad we’ve cleared that up.

    “I’m halfway through your comment and still waiting for you to make an argument. Instead, all I hear is a mindless emotional outburst. Care to show how I’ve misused any of these words? Or do you just want people to take your word for it?”

    Such a defensive comment. Do all comments have to have the main thrust of their argument in the first half of it? I made points and arguments in both the first and second paragraphs, which you dismiss as a mindless emotional outburst, probably because you have no actual rebuttal to them so you attempt to belittle. Again, a very immature response to criticism.

    Here is your paragraph from the article.

    “Taking others’ possessions.” One of my favorites. “No ma’am, you MUST share!” (Parent snatches object or forces child to give it to another child). That’s not sharing, that’s stealing. And you just taught your child that there’s no such thing as property and things can just be taken by force. Well guess what? It’s perfectly logical for a child to think, “if there’s no such thing as property, then I can take things from others the same way they were taken from me.” Don’t punish your child for being logical and for copying exactly what you just did — that’s silly.

    Your example doesn’t make sense and is incomplete – who owns the object? who was playing with the object originally? did the child snatch it from the other child him/herself prior the parents outburst? This is why I’m questioning your understanding of what you are talking about, even this fairly basic situation is much more nuanced then your simplistic and nonsensical paragraph. As in your example, the parent telling a child to share a toy is not stealing, ownership has not changed and the idea behind it is not that you can take what you want with impunity.

    Your straw man here is that you are saying mainstream parents teach their children the value of sharing by snatching from them. This is not true, bad parents may do this, but that is not the mainstream thought on how to teach this.

    Also, why does the parent in your example address the child as ma’am? To me that shows a great deal of respect, something you say that mainstream parents do not show.

    “So your argument is that parenting has no influence on selfishness or a lack of empathy and that if your child doesn’t magically snap out of it, you should take them to a doctor?”

    Straw man argument again. I didn’t say parents have no influence on a child’s development, that would be ludicrous, just as ludicrous as me saying your article states that parental influence is the only influence that matters and genetic and environmental influences don’t have any affect whatsoever.

    “So, you believe that there’s no such thing as behavior modeling? Children simply are born a certain way and the parents have no influence in the outcome? And you call me laughable? Come on, sir. You can’t be serious.”

    Stop using straw man arguments please! I have said none of those things. Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I believe the complete opposite. Some of what you say has merit, however it is a much more complex issue and it is not as black and white as you make out. I think many parents of children who have issues would find your advice quite simplistic and insulting.

    I say again:

    You do realise that raising children, and giving advice on the raising of children, is a serious thing right? Immature and incorrect articles like this can have a serious detrimental affect on people’s lives. Don’t drink this mans kool aid.

    • Kevin Geary

      Do those statistics not seem ridiculous to you? You really believe the report that says an average 4 year old is spanked over 2.5 times a day? I’ll point you towards a rebuttal of that appalling study you are quoting http://groundedparents.com/2014/05/05/1000-spankings-a-year-i-think-not/ . I’m assuming you just read a tabloid headline saying “CHILDREN ARE SPANKED 936 TIMES A YEAR” and believed it without doing any actual research yourself, you know, like a professional in the area would do. This is another example of your confirmation bias.

      I’m well aware of the study details. The rebuttal you posted is full of holes, starting with the ridiculous focus on the age of the children not being “exactly four.”

      The point of the study was to highlight that parents don’t even REALIZE how often they hit their kids and when they are interviewed about their discipline strategies, they tell a tale that is nothing like what is witnessed when they are actually observed with their children.

      Your example doesn’t make sense and is incomplete – who owns the object? who was playing with the object originally? did the child snatch it from the other child him/herself prior the parents outburst? This is why I’m questioning your understanding of what you are talking about, even this fairly basic situation is much more nuanced then your simplistic and nonsensical paragraph. As in your example, the parent telling a child to share a toy is not stealing, ownership has not changed and the idea behind it is not that you can take what you want with impunity.

      Right, we’re not going to lock up the parents for stealing. I’m sorry you’re so caught up on being 1000% literal.

      The problem you face is that your rebuttal has nothing to do with the validity of my argument.

      Your straw man here is that you are saying mainstream parents teach their children the value of sharing by snatching from them. This is not true, bad parents may do this, but that is not the mainstream thought on how to teach this.

      Like hell it’s not. Are you a teacher?

      Also, why does the parent in your example address the child as ma’am? To me that shows a great deal of respect, something you say that mainstream parents do not show.

      It’s not respect. Have you never heard a parent say this? And is this really an argument you’re wasting time making?

      Stop using straw man arguments please! I have said none of those things.

      I’m not creating a straw man. Straw man arguments aren’t questions. I’m asking you questions because you’ve failed to say much of anything. You’re making vague statements that could have tons of different beliefs behind them. I’m simply trying to clarify because you’ve failed to form a coherent argument with a clear premise.

      • TOm

        You didn’t tell me how to quote, poor form.

        “I’m well aware of the study details. The rebuttal you posted is full of holes, starting with the ridiculous focus on the age of the children not being “exactly four.”

        The point of the study was to highlight that parents don’t even REALIZE how often they hit their kids and when they are interviewed about their discipline strategies, they tell a tale that is nothing like what is witnessed when they are actually observed with their children.”

        If you are aware of the study details why use it to try and bolster your argument? That’s odd, the paper is toxic to your argument, it’s nonsense and not worth anyone’s time, the conclusions are wild and incorrect, the sample size miniscule and not proportional to anything, why would you even mention it again? You think the 40 words of the 1000 word article where it mentions that the children aren’t actually 4 is the main focus of the article? That’s also odd, you do realise that the article was not only about the questionable nature of the report but also the sensationalism that surrounded it when it was released, the sensationalism that you tapped straight into with: “The statistics disagree with you. 90% of parents admit to spanking their children. The average child is spanked 936 times a year.”

        “Right, we’re not going to lock up the parents for stealing. I’m sorry you’re so caught up on being 1000% literal.

        The problem you face is that your rebuttal has nothing to do with the validity of my argument.”

        I’m hardly caught up on being 1000% (!) literal, your section on sharing was nonsensical and frankly incorrect, with use of the straw man. It has no validity, it was rebuffed. It’s interesting that you should say that is “my problem” though.

        “Like hell it’s not. Are you a teacher?”

        No, but the son of 2 teachers. Is there something wrong with teachers? Also, what is your evidence to say that the mainstream way of teaching children how to share is by snatching from them? It’s not espoused in any books or advice packages that parents tend to look at, it’s not like that in school or society as a whole, so where?

        “It’s not respect. Have you never heard a parent say this? And is this really an argument you’re wasting time making?”

        No, but I’m British, Ma’am is reserved for Queen! I agree it’s a throwaway line but it just struck me as odd, is that a thing in the US?

        “I’m not creating a straw man. Straw man arguments aren’t questions. I’m asking you questions because you’ve failed to say much of anything. You’re making vague statements that could have tons of different beliefs behind them. I’m simply trying to clarify because you’ve failed to form a coherent argument with a clear premise.”

        This: “So, you believe that there’s no such thing as behavior modeling? Children simply are born a certain way and the parents have no influence in the outcome? And you call me laughable? Come on, sir. You can’t be serious.” is an example of a straw man argument. Just because you put a question mark in it doesn’t mean it’s not. You made up beliefs for me, and then argued against them in an attempt to make me look foolish. Textbook straw man.

        The reason why I haven’t told you my beliefs, although I’ve strongly hinted at them, is because they simply aren’t relevant to my posts, which were a critique of your half arsed attempts at being a child psychologist. That this is a critique rather than an attempt to argue another position was plain from the first post so I’m not sure why you are using language like “You’re making vague statements…” and “I’m simply trying to clarify…” when it was very clear from the outset what it was.

        I think you need to read this bit again:

        You do realise that raising children, and giving advice on the raising of children, is a serious thing right? Immature and incorrect articles like this can have a serious detrimental affect on people’s lives. Don’t drink this mans kool aid.

        • Kevin Geary

          If you are aware of the study details why use it to try and bolster your argument? That’s odd, the paper is toxic to your argument, it’s nonsense and not worth anyone’s time, the conclusions are wild and incorrect, the sample size miniscule and not proportional to anything, why would you even mention it again?

          Because it’s none of those things. Like I said, the rebuttal you posted is ridiculous. The study proved that parents spank their kids far more than they admit and far faster than they admit.

          No, but the son of 2 teachers. Is there something wrong with teachers? Also, what is your evidence to say that the mainstream way of teaching children how to share is by snatching from them?

          Speaking of straw men, why are you claiming that I said that’s how mainstream parents EXCLUSIVELY handle the issue. I gave one example. You’re clearly misrepresenting my argument.

          No, but I’m British, Ma’am is reserved for Queen! I agree it’s a throwaway line but it just struck me as odd, is that a thing in the US?

          Now it makes sense. You’re commenting about the use of language in a country other than yours, claiming it’s not the language a parent would use. This is an American blog. Further evidence of your ridiculousness.

          You made up beliefs for me, and then argued against them in an attempt to make me look foolish. Textbook straw man.

          I did not make up beliefs for you. Lol. You’re completely out of it. I asked a clear question because you continue to fail to make a clear statement! I’m only left to ask questions because you don’t know how to form an argument.

          Say concretely what you believe. Stop beating around the bush. Then I won’t be forced to ask questions and make assumptions.

          The reason why I haven’t told you my beliefs, although I’ve strongly hinted at them, is because they simply aren’t relevant to my posts, which were a critique of your half arsed attempts at being a child psychologist.

          Exactly. You trounce in here all high and mighty and REFUSE to make an ARGUMENT. Do you know how childish that is? Do you know how stupid and irrelevant you look?

          I’ll continue to change lives. You continue to act like a 3 year old. Any further comments from you, that don’t contain a clear argument, will be deleted.

        • Meag

          Hi Tom, you are making logical sound arguments and Kevin is obviously immature, as evidenced by inability to neither take under advice, ignore or respond respectfully to any criticism at all. The Bible says arguing with a fool makes two, so I suggest just letting Kevin get the last word. It’s what people like him just have to do. He will never stop attacking your citations, logic, or arguments because they don’t fit his agenda and that is threatening. It is very clear that he is probably not a parent, and most likely resents his own parents. He will attack my comment as well, it I will simply ignore his response because I am a teacher and have dealt with his type before. There are many approaches to parenting and there is no “one size fits all,” because kids have different genetic makeups, different needs, etc. My own child often displays some of the manipulative and self centered behaviors of her father, and this is definitely genetic. I’m sure Kevin would heatedly and hastily disagree, but again, given his temperament and type, I would certainly expect that, however I don’t have a manipulative bone in my body as those close to me can attest, and have been known to give of myself to the point of exhaustion without noticing my fatigue or expecting anything in return. This is not something my child learned from me but a genetic disposition she inherited for her father and one that requires constant loving correction and monitoring with only slight positive changes and ongoing regression as it is simply part of her basic character. I love her and accept her for who she is while continuously explaining to her how her future will look if she gives in to her selfish desires regularly. On the other hand, my sister, who is an extremely manipulative person, managed to birth a kind hearted fun loving child much more like me than like herself. I understand the point Kevin trying to make, as there is a certain amount of modeling that children pick up on, but there is definitely a greater influence by genetics than anything else.

  • Anon

    I feel that it is a culmination of environmental issues – not just parents. Grandparents, siblings, teachers, peers, media, and other influences contribute to the child being selfish and other issues like self-esteem. For instance, my son (who is 12) can be very selfish but not because he was not taught by me to share or to care for others. Instead, his grandparents were spoiling him and I did not know it until it was a bit too late. He would come home with nothing extra, but apparently they were letting him watch whatever he wanted to on TV, they would buy him whatever he wanted (including 200.00+ gifts like tablets that would stay there) after I said no, feed him junk food nonstop when he visited, and more. They were using these gifts and items to make him come over to visit. When I found out all of this, I confronted my dad and stepmom about it, but they are ignorant and refused to listen to me about parenting, of course. I had issues with them growing up too. So there is now a limit on how often my son can go and see them and he has been told not to use, take advantage, or accept crazy things over there (and he has listened).

    Also, some kids at school are selfish and children tend to focus on more negative than positive (so do adults – bad news travels faster than good news, obviously). My son is exposed to selfish kids, teachers, other parents, and the media enforces this through glamour magazines, what is hot in terms of fashion for kids, and much more. Kids want to fit in and it seems that other kids, parents, grandparents, siblings, and other influences are pushing against the will of children today, especially due to the introduction of social media (what’s hot / what’s not mentality). I see children clawing at their parents purses because they want the hottest backpack or pair of jeans for the year, not realizing that a parent cannot afford 50.00 for an item when there is a 20.00 substitute that will do just fine.

    So to blame it on the parents only, is missing quite a few variables in the equation, I feel, only because a child is mainly influenced by peers (particularly in adolescence). But I do think that a lot of what you have said and say rings very true because some parents are horrible, selfish, and ignorant people, sadly.

    And, if I may add my input on the way you handled the guy who disagreed with you: I feel that could have been handled a little better. I do not want to hurt your feelings or make you feel bad in any way, shape or form, but a simple “Thank you for your information and opinion on this matter, I will look into that” would have done nicely. I did not agree with what he had to say really and I am only saying that because people will argue with pretty much anything these days. They will especially argue when they feel they are being attacked or if they feel upset, angry, agitated, or guilty because their child is not behaving properly (which is what brought them to this post in the first place). No parent wants to be blames for their precious child being a little punk. You are right though, the first step in accountability is looking in the mirror, just to make sure you, as a parent, are not the cause of the issue(s).

  • Frustrated Parent

    We are gentle respectful parents. I was really hoping this article would actually she’d some light on why our child is acting so awful and selfish lately. We don’t do any of the things mentioned above. We don’t force share, force apologies, we don’t punish, we are empathetic and don’t try to control beyond safety issues, and our child is… well he’s very awful and selfish right now. Grabbing toys from his brother, hurting the cat. I’m starting to think thus whole gentle parenting thing is a joke, we made a mistake and all he does is walk over us. I feel like I wasted 5 years of his life and now what? I can’t allow him to hurt his brother or bully the pets? That’s not fair either. This article isn’t really helpful for parents who already were parenting the way you say we should have been this whole time and still have a selfish child who tries to hurt and control others. 🙁

    • Kevin Geary

      If you’ve already been parenting this way for a while (and that still needs to be examined. It sounds maybe like you’ve tipped a bit too much toward permissiveness) then we have many other articles and a Facebook group that’s great for getting specific advice.

      I will say, though, that being aggressive with his brother, “bullying” the pets, and otherwise acting in a selfish manner is age appropriate limit testing. Kids still need limits, they just need them delivered in a calm, assertive, loving way.

      A child can’t learn how to empathize with others without first testing out selfishness. They can’t learn how to be gentle with pets without first being rough. Having a sibling is tough and big feelings can manifest as being rough with the sibling. This is all developmentally normal. Our job is to give kids the tools to respond to these difficult situations in more productive ways.

      Join our Facebook group and we can help you more.

  • TONI

    Please help me figure this out.

    I have 5 children. 3 of whom are my nephew and neices. Who have resided with me for approx 7 years now. So I’ve had them longer than their parents had.

    The older 3 children have had challenges adapting to life with me (aunty) and coming to terms with no longer being able to live with mum or dad.

    The the middle child of the 3 female. Has been a very well behaved child, she is very intelligent and is exceeding above expected levels. She is polite, and follows houses rules generally, but shows signs of sly behaviour and greed. She struggles to keep friends, she has very little empathy for other children or family members or friends.

    She will often pass blame, take with out asking, tell deliberate lies, will often manipulate her brother and sister. She can’t be quiet upsetting to other children, when she has something she will not share, if it’s a sweet, she’s been known to smerk in the face of her friends and eat loudly and deliberately make comments, that inform people around her they won’t be having any. Yet if her friends have something she is the first one on the scene. She chooses her friends to how she can benefit from them.

    My children have all been brought up very well, I don’t smack my children, and often just use positive encouragement to direct a change, and this has always been my way of teaching them.

    I often use examples of how they would feel and 4 of my 5 children have developed very well with this. My 3 year old is so emotionally aware, and will often guide the older 3 if they get in to a disagreement with each other.

    Last night she had taken money of her friends parent, for sweets at the shop, which I have spoken to her about this before and asked her to be polite and say thank you but not to take it, I am friends with the parent, and had to go and explain that I’m having some difficulties at the moment with her, and asked them to no longer offer her money for the shop. My children all earn pocket money for doing home work cleaning up at back of them self’s, keeping rooms tidy ect.

    Her brother and sister both give to charity if we’re in town and shopping with their pocket moneys or birthday monies, but she never ever has, I have never asked them to do it. And I don’t comment if she doesn’t offer. I’m a charity giver, always have been, but I’ve never asked my children to do it. It’s my money my choice, so that’s why I would say anything to her for not giving. Although I always make a nice comment on how much of a considerate thing it is when the others have done it.

    I guess what I want to know is why?? And what can I do.

    I think the most difficult thing to wrap my head around is that, she is so much like her parents, and even though their has been very little contact with them and their parents, personality wise I struggle to un train this behaviour out of her, and guide her. She starts secondary school in sept, I’m quiet worried for her. Her brother started last year and he is expressing he worried about her coming and upsetting other kids, or her getting in trouble with her behaviour traits. The main thing he was worried about was her embarrassing him.

    I’m at a loose end, I understand a lot of behaviours are learnt behaviours. Honestly some of things she does are uncanny to her parents. I don’t tell her this obviously.

    Any advise would be appreciated.

  • Chris

    Wow, I am a parent of a child who is not selfish and have a brother who’s child is very selfish. I decided to do some research on the matter after a conversation with my brother about the difference in the two children, to see if I could get some clarity on what the difference was. In our initial conversation I suggested that “you can not change someone else”. And that they must decide to adopt a different example on their own and that my brother should, “be the change he wants to see”. Like many of the people who responded negatively to this article, he also did. I believe that nothing proves the authors point more. My brother is very selfish. Be the change you want to see, your child(who loves and believes in you) will see how wonderful it is for you and adopt the new awesomeness as their own. You are the cause and the solution, the more you resist it, the harder it will be for your child to resist it and adopt a new way. You can put all the labels, stereotypes, blame and exuses on the situation that you want, but remember your child is suffering in the meantime and with each passing second that there is not an amazing example being displayed by YOU. It gets worse. So strap on some balls and go take a good long look in the mirror and get out there and show your child the joy of life. You won’t be disappointed. You, are the only solution and the only way is truth, be it.

  • Tessa

    What about when the parent is doing all the right things, not swiping toys from their kid to force sharing, never hitting the children, offering a ton of autonomy, modeling an attitude of love and serving, and two out of three kids follow that example but the third doesn’t?

    It is not such a black and white issue of children modelling after parents. Children are whole beings who have personalities and minds of their own. Sometimes the parents can be doing everything right but some kids are just harder to understand and raise than others. Just like some adults have more of a servant heart and natural empathy, some children have an easier time with that.

    It is absurdly insulting to say that children are only as loving as their parents. Do parental examples have an effect on their child’s behaviour? Absolutely. Examine yourself to see if your children are picking things up from you. But to degrade the whole personality of a child to being nothing more than a mimic of his or her parents is to grossly oversimplify the age-old nature vs nurture balance. Two parents can have 10-15 children with the exact same genetic input and parenting style, yet every single one of those children will be unique individuals.

    • Kevin Geary

      Hi Tessa, I’ll try to reply to this as best I can…

      It is not such a black and white issue of children modelling after parents. Children are whole beings who have personalities and minds of their own. Sometimes the parents can be doing everything right but some kids are just harder to understand and raise than others. Just like some adults have more of a servant heart and natural empathy, some children have an easier time with that.

      I never argued that children aren’t whole beings who have unique personalities and challenges.

      It is absurdly insulting to say that children are only as loving as their parents.

      I did an article search for the phrase, “children are only as loving as their parents” and the only person who appears to have made that statement is you, in this comment. What’s really insulting is when people put words in other people’s mouths…

      But to degrade the whole personality of a child to being nothing more than a mimic of his or her parents is to grossly oversimplify the age-old nature vs nurture balance.

      Nobody has done such a thing.

      Two parents can have 10-15 children with the exact same genetic input and parenting style, yet every single one of those children will be unique individuals.

      This is a true statement that is not an argument against anything I have said.

  • Andy

    what a load of new age garbage! You seem to be inferring that parents should treat children as equals. This is just ridiculous. Negotiating with your child at every turn is a recipe for disaster and will have children questioning every adult (teachers, coaches, etc.) at every turn. Sometimes children need to hear “because I am the parent and you are the child” when faced with why. If I spent my day explaining everything to my children my sanity would be challenged.

    • Kevin Geary

      Do you have any actual argument beyond general fear-mongering statements about how out of control kids will be and how it’ll take too much of your time (even though you’re clearly uninformed on how these methods are actually implemented)?

  • Nigel

    I give up,
    after reading the information from this entire thread, all that you have achieved is resentment from me on all counts,
    I will try to seek more accurate information elsewhere, without the in your face negativity.
    This thread is so non productive for genuine people that are desperate for assistance.
    Grow up!!!
    Kind Regards

  • Paula

    Sorry to the author of this article but the level of defensiveness you respond to the readers with
    is pathetic. At first I thought you were just protective of the message you were sending but as I read on and found that you continue to dismantle other reader’s responses in a way that sheds no new light or information or even integrity. By the end I felt just how insecure you actually are. There is power in just letting people have opinions different than your own without having a cyber fit each time someone offends you. It’s not easy to be the bigger person but if you publish something that you feel strongly about that should be enough.
    So much for getting help with how to raise a giving child….now I’m thinking about how to be open to criticism and use it to learn about myself and others and not go through a revolving door of back tracking. Life is too short!

      • Paula

        Because there’s something about you’re reaction that inspires me to call you on it. It might be worth re reading your journalism and either add more nuanced sentences with more detail or just accept that you didn’t write a great piece and readers didn’t get the message you intended. There is that possibility that you seem to refuse to consider. Good luck figuring it out.

        • Kevin

          Actually, I have pointed out the flaws in their line or reasoning, which is exactly what you also have an issue with. You’re asking me to put myself in an untenable situation. Writing with “more detail” or “more nuance” does not fix other people’s inability to deploy reason. Then, when I point out flaws in their reasoning, people like you whine and complain.

          This is a place where adult conversations happen. If you’re going to get offended by people having debates, it might not be the place for you. Perhaps there’s a safe space somewhere you can retreat to.

          • Paula

            it must be exhausting pointing out others flaws and reasoning. No wonder you can’t write or get a point across. Im heading out now for that safe place. Or at least a smart one.

          • Kevin

            Yes, because I don’t have a successful blog getting lots of traffic, changing lots of minds, a successful podcast, a successful course…all helping tons of people…

            As I told the other gentleman who couldn’t grasp reality…I’ll keep helping tons of people, you keep bitching and complaining. That way, our chosen paths are each fulfilled.

  • Kimberly

    I just wanted to say that I found this helpful. I found myself googling “what to do when your child is selfish” and this is probably the best straight-forward advice I’ve seen. I’m not saying it made me feel great about myself but it made me realize my approach is lacking and so I’ll make some changes. I didn’t read all the comments because I found them exhausting after the first few. Anyway, thanks.

  • Shy

    I am truly disgusted with this lack of wisdom . I’m glad I am teaching my child structure and know from personal experience that he will grow from having correct guidance ! Parents are not perfect and yes our parents have left scars mentally but I’d rather have him a little mentally bruised then an incarcerated, selfish, heartless child behind bars his whole life or on drugs because he felt like I didn’t care enough to discipline him correctly !

  • Leanne Strong

    Don’t listen to the other people who give all that negative criticism about this article. You do make some very valid points. For example, sometimes parents/guardians do tell their kids stuff like, “you’re being selfish,” or, “you never think about anyone else but yourself,” when the child won’t do what the parent/guardian wants him/her to do. Or when the child and the parent/guardian have different opinions or values. In either case, maybe the parent is also being a little bit selfish.

    Instead of telling your child(ren) stuff like, “you never think about anyone else but yourself,” or, “you’re being selfish,” you can say stuff like, “I feel _______ when ________.” Or, “I’d guess we have different opinions on that. I don’t care about the chemicals that are in food, but you do, and that’s ok.” Both are more constructive than stuff like, “you’re just being bratty,” or, “you always have to have your way.” Plus, if you want your children to learn to use, “I” statements instead of “you” statements, then you as the adult, should use “I” statements instead of “you” statements with your children. Statements such as, “you are being selfish,” or, “you never think about anybody but yourself,” are “you” statements, not “I” statements.

  • Matthew

    kevin, this article was not helpful and the comment section seems to overwhelmingly agree. You seem to be spending a lot of energy telling the masses they’re wrong. You might want to think about your motivations.

  • Tim

    Any parent who has had multiple kids knows that some kids are more selfish than others.
    So if you have one son who is great and the other who is downright selfish, than blame the parents?

    Life is not that simple, and doesn’t work that way. “Look in the mirror.” Thank you for the great advice. How about more details?

    As for parents who yell and spank. I have a few immigrant families who you probably consider bad parents. They have openly told me that they yelled and spanked their kids. All their kids went to ivy league schools, are doctors, lawyers, and are well-adjusted people. Probably because their parent’s yelled at them to do their homework, when they were young. But, to you, they “lack empathy”. Personally, it is the opposite. It is because they want their children to do well in life.

    Quit blaming the parents. Even a parent who yells and (my goodness) spanks, are not the problem. With people like you, I am not surprised why kids in America are so unprepared with life. It is because you live in an imaginary world, where you think kids understand logic. This is why parents yell. Because they do not.

  • Tim

    The funny thing is people like the writer of this article will tell you to not yell or spank your kids, but after you raise a selfish child,
    * you end up having to over-medicate them when they are young ($$$), and you doom your child to addictive drugs that have lifelong negative effects, where your child cannot cope in the real world without medication and therapy that goes no where.

    * or when reaching their teens, to send them to boot camps ($$$), where someone else disciplines and yells at your kid (because it is not ok for the parent to do this, but perfectly fine for some else to do this). Another friend who is a social worker tells me that, boot camps are the biggest new fad.

    Thank god I was born in the 80s, where my parents yelled and spanked me. And they do not have to apologize to me. Again, I was a spoiled kid by nature, and I needed the direction. As an adult, I understand that they are human beings, and wanted me to do well in school and in life.
    Even my brother, who was a model kid, got some yelling. And he probably feels the same way.

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Is Your Child Selfish? Here’s An Action Plan.

by Kevin Geary time to read: 2 min
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