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Sunday 31 January 2016

Teach Children to Overcome Selfishness and Be Generous

It can be quite upsetting to see your child wanting everything for himself. Going out to social gatherings can be embarrasing as your child hoards everything without sharing with anyone. Even to hear your child's voice declaring endlessly, "No. that's mine!" or "Give me!" can jar on your nerves.

I have full sympathy for the mother at the checkout counter in front of me, trying to pay for her groceries with a child (or two) crying out, "I want this!" and "Give me that!". When she harrassly and instinctively says no, her child starts to cry the fake cry that children do when they can't get what they want. To quieten her child down, she gives in and quickly gives the checkout person the item to scan as her child jumps up and down with outstretch hands.

I understand that some parents don't know what to do with a selfish child or how their child became like that. We live in the me era that caters to demands of the child. We are taught to give them everything they want otherwise we'd be seen as abusing their rights. 

Children aren't naturally selfish but can easily pick up this trait from how others act and react to them. If they are treated as the centre of the universe then they will believe that they are. If there is scarcity around them and everyone has to fight for their survival then children too will fight to survive. 

But if children can learn selfishness then they can learn generosity as well. There is hope for your child to be the generous person that Islam teaches us to be. 

Below are some ways to teach your child to give and share.

1. Model generosity
As with most things, generosity starts with yourself. Your child needs to see you being generous so he can learn and copy it. Make it a habit to help those in need, provide service to others, give in charity and go out of your way to ease someone's troubles. With the right intention, Allah will reward your good deeds and your child will have an excellent role model.

2. Use affirmation and self-talk
Say it out loud so children can understand what generosity is and can internalise it. This will give them a new way of thinking about themselves (called self-talk). For example, "I like to be generous." "I like to give to others." "Allah loves those who are generous." "Prophet Muhammad (s) was so generous. I love to be like him." "It is good to be generous." "Being generous is easy to do."

3. Give praise and feedback 
When your child is being kind and generous and is sharing and any of the other kind behaviours, immediately praise and give him feedback such as "You are so generous. You gave that toy to x." "You are so kind. You shared your x." "You love to share. Your friend is happy."

Also show your approval through body language and gestures when your child is being generous. Likewise, show disapproval by frowning and other body language when he is acting selfishly. This will explicitly let him know which behaviours are generous and which are selfish.

4. Teach empathy 
Focus on emotions and consistently draw attention to how others are feeling. For example, when your child pushes someone "x is upset", when he shares "That makes x happy", when another child has nothing "See how sad x is". By focusing on the emotions of others you teach your child to consider others and not only himself.

5. Teach cooperation
By teaching cooperation you are teaching your child to work together and share. One way to do this is to teach your child to take turns. 

You could draw pictures together by taking turns. Your child draws a line then you draw something to add to the picture such as a circle, then it's your child's turn to draw. Keep going until you have a picture. You could then take turns to colour or paint it. Your child will see that by taking turns and helping each other, you can produce something special.

You could invite some friends over for your child to draw or simply play with. This requires that your child cooperate and share.

6. Practice being generous
Give your child lots of opportunities to practice being generous - it doesn't have to be material goods that he gives away. It can be his time, his friendship, his help and so on. Invite your child to give charity regularly. Give him pocket money and suggest that he saves a third for himself, spend a third and give to charity the remaining third. 

Get your child to do volunteer work at a community centre or charity organisation. Encourage him to spend his time with his grandparents and helping them do things or if he's older than spend his time at a nursing home or elderly neighbour and friends. 

7. Teach gratitude 
Show your child that he has a lot to be thankful to Allah for - his life to do good works, his clothing, food, shelter, friends, opportunities and so on. Show him that there are many people in theworld who don't even have these things.

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