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How To Teach Kids Not To Be Selfish

Updated on March 8, 2007

We all want to raise unselfish kids. I hope so anyway. World peace is riding on it! The best way to teach kids not to be selfish children is to be unselfish yourself. Kids are copycats. Modeling any behavior is always your best bet. Encourage kids to be kind and provide them with opportunities to serve others.


Be careful not to turn a toddler off sharing by pushing too hard. Gradually introduce the idea of taking turns and praise every tiny effort. Each rock your baby hands you is a chance to reinforce his innate desire to give and please. When children begin to play together, try using a timer for special toys. Play a special song that makes "tradesies" fun. Offer treats and kisses to reinforce good behavior. Encourage your child to bring a favorite toy to share when visiting a friend.

Sharing is important, but it's also crucial that the child has something of her own that is never subject to sharing. A special toy or stuffed animal that is always mine can help a kid to share lesser items.


Teaching a child to be kind is just as important as showing them how to share toys and cookies. Kids will be selfish until there's something in it for them. Let them experience how good it feels to care for someone else through your own loving behavior. Take that extra moment to look into your child's eyes. The gas bill can wait. The laundry can wait. Acknowledge your child and he will learn to do the same to others. Let him express emotion and he will learn to treat others with the same respect.


Call it advanced sharing for our gimme-gimme world - givng is fun and easy. Adopt the In-N-Out rule. Whenever she receives a new toy or clothes, she has to choose something give up in its place. Donate these items to a children's charity and make sure kids know the who, where, and why. You can also use a child's birthday party to benefit others. Guests bring books or school supplies to donate to local children. Bonus: less clutter!

Give time. Find opportunities to serve your community in which children can participate or observe. They can sort items for church bazaars, serve soup at the homeless shelter, or weed gardens at the community park. I once I took my kids to a workday at a children's shelter. All they did was play while we cleaned, but they got to see firsthand the needs of others.


Responsibility helps a child know that they are not the center of the universe. Household chores reinforce the idea of the individual working to benefit the whole. Mealtimes are an easy start - even a preschooler can set out the napkins. Caring for a pet is another excellent way to teach unselfish behavior. When the dog cries, you need to let him out regardless of what level you've reached on Mario Brothers.

It's not difficult to teach kids to kids not to be selfish. Practice kindness toward them and others and your kids will copy your behavior. Guide, encourage, and praise every effort large and small. You will be rewarded with sweet children and a sweeter world.

Read Lela's humor column, After the Bubbly at Who is Isabella?

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    sonfitz 7 years ago

    Luke is the type of person that will ruin this country, self centered egotistical idiot who hasn't a clue how to successfully raise kids. Kids can know what they want and how to get it without stepping on people in the process. Wake up and pull your head out of you know where and apply some common sense.

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    RedBird 7 years ago

    Lela, thank you for these practical suggestions. My child is the only small child in a decent sized family (including extended) of adults. Christmas and her birthdays and just regular day to day gifts are overwhelming. I like the In/Out rule and will put that in to practice immediately. Your concept of having a gift that does not require sharing is also nice. Thanks again.

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    anonymousme 7 years ago

    The key is balance for mental health and society. Children need to know what they want and that can overlook others feelings if they are being manipulated, but choose not to if there is true need. My point is to care about yourself, but be able to see beyond the self to others wants and needs too.

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    thetfin 8 years ago

    @luke: Available reasources are limited, therefore we have no choice but to share. Everyone can't have everything. And sometimes, no matter how hard we strive, we can't achieve what we want even(sometimes especially) with a selfish mindset. Sometimes things we want have to be given to us. Everyone might be born with the mental and physical faculties to achieve, but these faculties need to be nurtured by others if they are expected to bear any fruits. Where would you be if the people who raised you were too selfish to bother? Selfishness does not grease the wheels of society. Only charity and good will can do that.

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    thetfin 8 years ago

    Wonderful! I'll have to favorite this.

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    amy 8 years ago

    i hate these habits, but not all the time.

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    luke 8 years ago

    raise your kids to know what they want. they will go farther in life this way because they will not worry about the feelings of others and they will strive for what THEY want. that is the essence of selfishness, and it is a good thing not a bad thing. who wants to raise a timid, shy child, who always worries about the feelings of others? teaching your kids not to be selfish would just hurt them mentally in the long run

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    Rebecca Graf 9 years ago from Wisconsin

    I'm watching adults and then children and the selfishness I see is astounding. When my kids (who I think are not listening) see how others act, they are shocked. I remind them that that is why I'm so hard on them to be kind to each other and not be so selfish. I think my reasoning is sinking in now.