We have all met people who live in an I, me and mine mindset. We have sayings – “The world doesn’t revolve around you,” “The sun doesn’t rise and set on you” and “There is no I in team.” As the world becomes smaller due to technology and simultaneously more competitive, life becomes more about self-preservation and survival. We want our children learn to reach for what they need. We want them to grow up to strive for good grades, achievements, honors and be successful in a tough job market. At the same time, we want them to see the world from a larger point of view than their own. How do we strike a balance between teaching children to meet their own needs and knowing when to put their needs aside for the better good? How can we raise them to have a world view larger than “I, me and mine?”
While not every self-focused person has a personality disorder, one hint as to how we may foster empathy and mindfulness may lie in the definition of narcissistic personality disorder –
“Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” - The Mayo Clinic Staff (www.mayoclinic.org)
“…behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” Being able to see the world from other points of view and knowing when to do that is tied to our own self-worth. Children learn what they see and they develop self-esteem by being given many opportunities to feel pride. When young children are intentionally parented and taught in a way that makes them feel good about themselves, they are more likely to integrate those positive feelings and require less approval from the outside world. We can give young children a foundation of self-care and empathy. We do that by being mindful of our own actions and words.
- Commit random acts of praise. We have a tendency to point out what is wrong far more often than we point out what is right. When things are going well, we say less than when something is wrong. Without a gold star on a piece of paper and when they least expect it, celebrate your young child’s actions or behavior.
- Praise specifically - “Good job” means nothing. Children have no idea what you liked. When your child cleans up his/her toys nicely, say, “You cleaned up the room so nicely. You should be proud.” Specifically state the good deed and let them know that they should feel good about themselves.
- Say “You should be proud” more often than “I am proud.” Make feeling good about themselves about them, not you. By telling them that they should be proud, you have implied that you are but you have placed the focus on them. When they are pleased with themselves, it needs a name – proud – and it needs to not be about you.
- Make hurt feelings okay. Everyone gets hurt sometimes. Children need to know that. They also need to know that other people’s opinions don’t diminish us. Tell your child, “I know that hurts” and problem solve together. Teach your children to control what they can – their own actions and reactions. Strategize about the situation and stick to the facts. Letting children get lost in hurt – well, it hurts more.
- Be an example of appropriate self-care. It is good for you and your children when you take care of your needs. Take time to attend a class, exercise, get together with friends and take time for hobbies. Children who watch adults think of themselves sometimes and others when needed are observing balance. They also learn that each of us is worth taking time for ourselves. When we care for ourselves, we are often better emotionally equipped to have empathy for others.
- Monitor your own use of “I, me and mine” in conversations. We often wince at people whose every sentence begins with “I” or who can’t listen to others without turning the conversation back toward them. Have you ever really listened to yourself to see how often you do that? Listen to yourself. Can you hear about someone else’s situation without telling a story of your own? Can you put your own viewpoint aside to try to see another?
Like everything else, children learn from watching you. Be an example of a bigger view than your own while still demonstrating your own self-worth. Work intentionally to provide children with a balanced foundation of self-esteem and empathy.
For more information, click on these titles: "Helping Young Children to Build Emotional Intelligence" and "Should Preschoolers Ever Be Wrong?"
Read my articles in “The Shriver Report”: "Stress in the Family: Helping Our Children to Cope" ; "From Working Mom to Working Woman: The Opportunity of the Empty Nest""Family Finances: Tips To Teaching Your Kids About Money""Equality in My Home"
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