Raising a selfless child seems like a big undertaking especially in the self-centered society we live in. It seems as though many people today only consider what is best for them and do not consider others' feelings or interests. Based on three research-based parenting programs, here are three steps for raising a selfless child:
1. Fostering Intrinsic Motivation within Your Child
What does intrinsic motivation mean? Aflie Kohn, author of the book Unconditional Parenting states, “Intrinsic motivation basically means you like what you’re doing for its own sake, whereas extrinsic motivation means you do something as a means to an end.” Is it possible that your child is born with intrinsic motivation and how you handle situations with your child can either encourage or discourage intrinsic motivation?
Consider this grandmother's experience:
“My granddaughter (then 18 months old) was visiting our home with her family. It was a cold snowy day and water had been tracked inside onto the kitchen floor. I was preparing dinner when my granddaughter came near the sink and took down the dish towel. My husband tried to stop her but I told him we should just see what she does with it. She took the towel and got down on her hands and knees, sopped up a few of the snowy puddles, stood up, replaced the towel and toddled out of the room. My husband and I stared at each other in disbelief. The deed had been done unprompted and without fanfare. She simply chose to do it.”
By letting your child take initiative, make choices, explore and create, you can foster intrinsic motivation within him. When you try and control your child you may extinguish his intrinsic motivation. Praise and punishment also eliminate intrinsic motivation.
2. Eliminating Praise and Punishment
Both praise and punishment are external motivators and cause a child to do things either for the reward of your praise or the fear of your punishment. Instead of praising your child you can foster intrinsic motivation by inviting him to reflect on why he does things. An example of this would be asking your child why he shared his cookie with his sibling instead of telling him, “Good job for sharing!”
If your child is doing something because he knows that you will praise him, he is doing it for the wrong reason. If as a parent, you are praising your child to reinforce a behavior you are also doing it for the wrong reason. Rewarding and punishing your child to elicit a specific behavior out of him is called behaviorism. Behaviorism only focuses on making a child do a certain behavior, it does not focus on helping a child become the selfless, respectable person that you want him to be.
Parents use punishment because it works and it is a quick fix. But do you want a quick fix, or do you want your child to become a selfless person and do things for the right reasons? Jane Nelson, author of the book Positive Discipline defines the long-term results of punishment. These are:
Resentment: “This is unfair. I can’t trust adults.”
Revenge: “They are winning now, but I’ll get even.”
Rebellion: “I’ll do just the opposite to prove that I don’t have to do it their way.”
Retreat: manifests itself in two ways — sneakiness (I won’t get caught next time) and reduced self-esteem (I’m a bad person).
Not punishing your child does not mean that you are a permissive parent. Instead of punishing, Nelson suggests talking with your child and coming up with solutions together. If your child is consistently running late for school and misses the bus, should you harshly punish your child or should you help him come up with solutions for next time like setting out his clothes and making his lunch the night before so that he is not rushed in the morning?
Immediately punishing your child might overlook the fact that there could be an underlying issue that is causing the behavior. John Gottman, the author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, suggests that caregivers use empathy when dealing with a child’s misbehavior. According to the Oxford Dictionary empathy is “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
If there is an underlying problem that is causing your child to miss the bus, such as bullying, your child is more likely to come to you with his problem if you are empathetic, listen and help him work out his problem. By using empathy with your child instead of punishment, you are teaching him how to be empathetic with others.
3. Focusing on Others
It is important to recognize your child and pay attention to him. You can be excited with your child and about things that he is doing, but you need to help your child identify the reasons behind his behaviors and help him put the focus on others. For example, a mother might be grateful to her child for setting the table without her asking. The mother might want to say something like “You are so great!” Instead, the mother should take the focus away from her child and tell her child how much it helped her that he set the table.
Another example would be if your child snatched a toy away from his friend Jonny. Instead of saying, “You are so mean,” or, “You give that back right now,” you need to help your child place the focus on others by saying, “How do you think Jonny felt when you grabbed that toy away from him? What do you think you should do?” By doing this you are helping your child look outward instead of focusing on himself.
Even though raising a child to be selfless can seem daunting in the “iGeneration” the satisfaction that comes from helping your child reach his or her highest potential is worth all the effort.
Aubrey has been married for two years and is nearing completion of her bachelor’s of science degree in Child Development.
Kaylin Ure has been married for 38 years and is the mother of seven children and the grandmother to 17 grandchildren. She is currently obtaining her bachelor’s of science degree in Marriage and Family Studies.