A quick look at the rise of “selfies” is all it takes to notice we live in a very self-centered world, and our kids are right in the middle of it. Maybe you’ve experienced one of these scenarios: Your teenager complains about doing the smallest chore in your home. Your toddler throws the most amazing and public tantrum in the store because they can’t have a candy bar. An all-out war breaks out between your kids for rights to the video game controller. Sound familiar? Let’s be honest—selfishness is a joy-thief. So, how can you simplify your life by tidying it up?
Just as Marie Kondo helps families simplify their homes, we are going to simplify our parenting. In her hit show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, she instructs clients to focus on what they want to keep rather than what they should throw out. In the same way, instead of focusing on how to get rid of selfishness, we’re going to work on cultivating selflessness.
First, let’s think about selfishness for a second. It comes from brokenness, not from wholeness. When we are broken and feel unloved, we naturally tend to focus on ourselves. So, we want to help our children feel whole and loved so they have the security and margin to focus on others.
For those who are parenting or fostering kids who have experienced trauma, these three principles are straight out of the Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) therapeutic model and have been proven effective in bringing healing and wholeness. Just to be clear, simplifying is not easy. But it’s always worth it.
So, in the spirit of the KonMari Method, here are three parenting actions we want to keep in the order of their priority.
1. Consistently connect with your kids. No matter how old your kids are, they all need to know they are loved and secure. That’s why we want to focus on the personal connection before the behavior correction. This is foundational because it’s exactly how God deals with us. While we were sinners (and selfish), Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8). He didn’t start with a correction. Jesus made sure we knew we were loved and accepted right where we were.
2. Empower your kids to give, not just receive. It’s never too early to give your kids opportunities to serve others. In fact, one of the best ways to encourage selfless behavior is to empower your kids to come up with their own ideas of ways they can serve their family, people at school, or neighbors in your community. When kids are exposed to those less fortunate and have opportunities to serve them, they actually have more gratitude for what they have and are proud to help. And, when you allow them to identify their own ways to serve, they feel far more invested in giving to others. Afterward, ask them how they felt about serving others. This can help them make the connection for themselves that giving is greater than receiving (Acts 20:35).
3. Lovingly correct from a place of connection. The third action to focus on is bringing correction when your kids’ behavior is self-centered instead of others-focused. When your kid demonstrates a selfish behavior, help them realize why it was selfish. Ask them things like, “How did your action affect the people around you?” or “How do you think that person felt when you did that?” Help them learn empathy by putting themselves in someone else’s shoes and asking how they would feel if someone treated them selfishly. Then, give examples of what an others-first choice would look like. But remember, correction is only beneficial if it is built on the foundation of connection and empowerment.
But here’s the kicker: We can’t effectively parent our kids through these steps, in this order, without strong compassion for them. And this compassion comes from remembering their strengths and empathizing with their challenges. Encourage your kids when you see them demonstrating any action that puts others first because what gets rewarded will get repeated. And when your kid inevitably makes another selfish choice? Lovingly redirect them to make a better choice next time.
So, to tidy up the joy-thief in our homes, let’s simplify our parenting by keeping the things that matter most at the center. Let’s help our kids feel secure in who they are so that they can help others find security, too.
Resources and Discussion Questions for Talking to Your Kid About Putting Others First at Any Age
Here are some quick links to free resources about selflessness for your kids at each developmental level. You can also try these discussion starters to begin a conversation about what putting others first looks like in and out of the home.
For Your Preschoolers (Or Verbal Toddlers—It’s Never Too Early to Start!)
1. Start this Bible Plan together.
2. Go on the Bible Adventure called “It Is Finished” together with your little ones. Each time they watch it, they’ll pick up new things.
3. As you work through this topic together, try asking some of these questions:
- How did Jesus show his love for us?
- Who is someone we can show love to today?
- How can you show love to everyone?
For Your Elementary Kids
1. Start this Bible Plan about putting others first.
2. Watch the Konnect HQ episodes about selflessness with your child.
3. As you work through this topic together, use these questions as a jumping-off place:
- In what ways did Jesus put us first?
- When is it difficult for you to put others first?
- What do you think you can do to love others the way Jesus loves us?
For Your Preteens
1. Start this Bible Plan about selflessness with your preteen. If they have their own Bible App account, invite them to join you in a Plan with Friends.
2. Watch these great episodes of The Loop Show about putting love for others in motion.
3. As you work through this topic together, ask the questions below:
- Does every person deserve love and forgiveness?
- God loved us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His Son for us. What does that tell us about how much He loves us?
- How can you put your love in motion this week?
For Your Teenagers
1. Encourage your teen to start a Bible Plan with their friends. Here are a few plans they could try: Selfless: Living An Others-First Kind Of Life, The Bible Project – Justice, Romans 8 – Move From Condemned To Convinced, and Living Like Jesus.
2. Ask your teen if they’ve seen the Switch episodes about putting others first.
3. Living selflessly isn’t easy! Talk to your teen about ways they can put others first in all areas of their life. Try asking the questions below:
- How would it change the way you interact with others if you saw everyone the way Jesus sees them?
- When was the last time you helped someone who couldn’t help you in return? What happened?
- Spend time thinking of ways you can show Christ’s love to others around you. Are there opportunities you’re missing to stand up for someone or to serve someone?