As a pastor of a church in Austin, TX one of the most common questions / frustrations I hear from parents is how easy it is for their children to be self-centered. Think about it this way:
- When they wake up in the morning cereal is magically waiting for them in the kitchen.
- When they get dressed for school their clothes are waiting for them in their closet.
- When they are ready for lunch they simply open their lunch box and find a healthy meal waiting for them.
- When they are at school they have their own special teacher cheering them on to learn.
- When they come home they have fun cartoons designed for them to enjoy.
- When they are bored they have hundred’s of toys to pick from like video games, action figures, dolls, sports, board games, etc.
- When they are hungry for dinner they simply hear someone say, “Dinner’s ready.”
- When any of these food items run out they simply wait a day or two and they magically reappear in their kitchen.
- When it is time for dinner they have someone prepare their bath, remind them to brush their teeth, and tuck them in at night with a kiss.
And we wonder why our children find it so easy to be self-centered. They are practically treated as royalty as the rest of the world go to and fro tending to their needs throughout the day.
Now this doesn’t mean we need to neglect our children. Our children are a blessing from the Lord. I love being a dad. I love the hugs and kisses. I love seeing the world through their eyes. I love taking care of them. It is a joy, but at the same time I want to be aware of the messages I am sending them throughout the day and throughout their life. Consider how difficult it will be for them one day when:
- When someone doesn’t provide them with a selection of food they enjoy.
- When someone doesn’t give them a pep talk to get through their day.
- When someone doesn’t have their clothes clean and folded.
- When someone doesn’t provide them with a roof over their head.
I have found that one of the biggest challenges for our 20 year old’s today in our culture is that they get out of college expecting to begin their life where their parent’s finished in life. They expect their parent’s spending money, their parent’s nice house, their parent’s nice car, their parent’s nice vacations, and for the most part they don’t expect to work really hard to get those things in life. Therefore, how do we respond as parents today to set our children up for success tomorrow? Here is my top 10 list below:
10. Model to Your Children: What do you live for? What do you run to? Where do you invest your money and time? Children don’t always listen, but they are always watching. If they see you living a life that is for your self they will naturally follow your example. One of the best things you can do with them is bring them along with you as you invest your money and time in the lives of other people.
9. Teach Culture: Unfortunately our children are not blank slates. They are receiving thousands of message every day just like we are and we would do well to teach them how to become aware of those messages. At 3-4 years old my children couldn’t read, but they could easily spot logos of toys and fast-food restaurants. Begin the conversation early to help them understand our culture.
8. Talk About Money: Take them to the store with you. I know it is easier to leave them at home, but take them with you. Help them to see how much stuff costs. Help them to see how hard you work to purchase those things. Help them to see for the family to say, “YES” to one purchase means we have to say, “NO” to another purchase.
7. Presence Over Presents: I know one of the easiest things I can do as a parent is to try to make up for my deficiencies by buying our children presents. They love presents. Who doesn’t? But, it is a red flag if I think I can cut corners as a parent and then fill in the gap with some toys.
6. Chores: In our family we say, “If you can walk, then you can work.” I know we are sensitive to child labor, but I am talking about simple tasks around the house. We teach them as early as possible to brush their own teeth, get themselves ready for bed, fold their own clothes, mop floors, and dust the house. Personally, I can’t wait till they hit double digits to mow the yard and rake leaves. Contrast this with children who grew up 100 years ago working on a farm. They worked with their parents. They saw where food came from. They had fun along the way, and it instilled some values of hard work and appreciation.
5. Tweaking Along the Way: All children are different. If you notice your child beginning to struggle with being self-centered it is a great opportunity to talk about their heart and your relationship. Have you been buying them everything they ask for? Have you been getting everything you want? Have you been talking to them about the great, great, need we have for Jesus? This isn’t a conversation we can only expect to have once.
4. Teach Responsibility: Teach your children to follow through. Teach your children to take responsibility. Teach your children to pay for something they break with their own money. Teach your children to apologize and seek forgiveness. It is good for their little hearts to see the weight of their decisions. We can provide shelter for the majority of their decisions in life, but as they get older it is good for them to feel the weight of taking responsibility.
3. Hold Possessions with an Open Hand: Everything we have isn’t really ours. It all belongs to Jesus. It is all His, therefore, we can hold everything with an open hand. We can give things away. We can let people borrow. We can share. It isn’t ours. Even when we loose things we didn’t really loose them because they were never ours. They are all His.
2. Take them to Work: I know it is hard, however, once or twice a year take them to work with you. Let them see what you do. Let them see how hard you work. Help them understand the way you take care of the family is through the money you earn at work. This will help them to see that when they are at school they are there to work. Work isn’t a bad thing. It is a great thing that we get to do, therefore, help them to learn about your work.
1. Point Their Hearts and Minds to Jesus: We become self-centered because we are convinced we have to take care of ourselves. Just like our children we assume the grocery store will have our food. We assume the clothing store will have our clothes. We assume we will have a job to earn money. We have the illusion of self-sufficiency, but in reality we are completely fragile and desperately in need of Jesus. In the end, we don’t become other-centered by focusing on others. That will last about a week. We become others-centered by having hearts and minds that are convinced that Jesus is good and completely taking care of us in all of our needs. It is in this moment that we can take our eyes off of ourselves, and with hearts that are full of gratitude we can focus on other people.