Bible Study

4 Ways to Create Selfish Kids {and what I’m doing about it}

“My turn!”

“But that’s not fun!”

“She’s not being fair!”

“I don’t wanna do it!”

Sound familiar?

With each kid (we’re up to 4), God has opened my eyes wider to the nature of a child’s heart.  They are selfish from the womb.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  There is no escaping this.  And as parents, everything–everything–everything we do either encourages that selfishness or points them to a better way.  God’s way.

4 Ways to Create Selfish Kids

4 Ways to Create Selfish Kids {and what I’m doing about it}

I’m currently reading the best book ever on this topic.

Ultimately, we pray for the salvation of our kids.  My husband and I are both well aware that the hearts of our selfish little brats…um, children…cannot be made new without Christ.  So we pray.  We teach them the truth.

Meanwhile, we point them in the right direction with our family’s lifestyle, priorities, and behavior expectations.

Confession?  I have not always been good at this.  I wanted to be the nice mom.  I wanted happy kids.  And my first child had the terrible twos from about 18 months till she turned 4!

Selfish Kid


So I worked hard to make her happy.

And now I’m working hard to undo all of those efforts.

Consider this my confession of what I’ve done to foster selfishness in my own kids, and what my current struggles are because of these patterns of parenting.


Here is my reverse checklist…

4 Ways to Create Selfish Kids:

1. Entertain them–don’t engage them.

When she was 2, my eldest would wake up at 6 in the a.m. while I was still getting daddy’s lunch packed for work (and often ironing his work shirt last minute…because I avoided it…because ironing is the bane of my existence).  I couldn’t pay attention to her in those waking up moments, and the first words out of her little mouth every morning, for about 6 months straight, were, “I want Memo!”  Nemo.  Finding Nemo.  The whole movie.  And I would pop it in…so she would be happy.

Fast forward to the last year or so.  She is 9 and the hero of whining about TV: whether it pleases her, whether she had a choice, and what she is unwilling to do because she didn’t get to watch what she wanted.

(Now, there are two posts elaborating on things we are doing in our home to work toward creating content, helpful, respectful children.  Here they are, if you can’t wait for the answers I am only teasing here: Growing Content Kids {Part 1} and Growing Content Kids {Part 2}.)

Today, when I exercise mommy-self-discipline and choose not to entertain them, we engage with things like:

  • Help with chores.
  • Read aloud together.
  • Do a craft.
  • Pull out LEGOs or other games…maybe something they haven’t seen in a while.
  • Take a walk or just play outside.
  • Dance party!

Do chores take longer when you are showing children how to do them, and working against bad attitudes (and I could’ve gotten 10 times more done while they watched a 30 minute show)?


Are they learning good life habits, including willingness to obey and be helpful in general?


More to come on this topic… Moving on!


2. Always give them a choice.

You’ve seen that mom in McDonald’s, the one frantically trying to get a straight answer out of her 3 year old on whether he wants a cheeseburger or nuggets, and all he cares about is the gum stuck to the bottom of the edge of the counter.

Secretly, I think that 3 year old knows the control he has over his mom…he can make her crazy just by ignoring her. But you bet your sweet bippy, because she always offers him a choice, there will be serious fallout if she orders nuggets without asking him.  And secretly, she knows this…so the kid has control either way…and the pattern continues.

I know, this was supposed to be my confession.  Although I have never been “that McDonald’s mom,” this hits home in other areas. Here’s an incident that opened my eyes:

My daughter who is 4 now is by far the most manipulative of my children. And a natural liar. This came to a head a few months ago between me and her.  It went something like this:

Me: “Do you want water or milk?”

Her: “Water.” (notice…no “please”)

Me: pour water and hand it to her

Her: “I said I wanted milk.”

Me: “No, you said you wanted water.”

Her: “I don’t want water! I want milk!” (knocks cup over)

There was a day I would have stopped to make her ask nicely for milk.  But God convicted me–I am responsible for this precious girl’s soul.  I chose to take a deep breath, pick her up, carry her to her bed, and leave her there.  While I prayed for wisdom.  (And decide if she was going to get anything to drink until dinner.)

Why do we give our children choices? Because we want them to be happy, right? Well, this girl has an amazing talent for not being happy, even when she gets her choice.  She had shown me a root issue:

I thought I wanted happy kids.  What I really want is content kidsno matter what they get.

Here’s what I’m trying these days:

  • Fixing everybody the same food and drinks at meals and snack time, no questions asked.
  • When we watch a TV show…mommy picks.
  • Rotating which toys are “out.”

This is all a work in progress.  More to come….  Number 3!


3. Play their games.

You know the ones… These games have names like:

Who Had It First

Who Took Two Turns

Who Hit Who First 

And one of my favorites…

Who Started Singing While I Was Singing

Ok, that last one might be specific to my kids.  They love music.  And heaven forbid your fun expression of song should prompt others who love music to jump right in!

You know how these games are played.  The offense occurs.  The glares and shouts of frustration between children.  The tattling, where the children tell you which of these games they are playing. Then…

Your move.  You play the game.  You let them know by your response how important it is who had it first, or who hit first.  Your passion for resolving this conflict with fairness to those offended, tells them, “This is a fight worth having.” 

Is that what we want to tell them?  Is that the kind of adults we want them to grow up to be?

In most situations, I have stopped playing their games.  Because the game doesn’t end.  Once one kid achieves fairness, everybody wants it in all situations.  Here’s where my heart is on this one:

  • I want my children to honor each other above themselves. (Romans 12:10)
  • I want my children to treat others like they want to be treated. (Matthew 7:12)
  • I want my children to be kind and forgive one another. (Ephesians 4:32)

Playing their games does not achieve these goals.  Again…more posts to come…

4. Give them everything they want.

This seems like a no-brainer.  You can’t give children everything they want.  And I don’t.  We have very little income and very small space.  We say “no” to a lot of things.  Perhaps because of this, I sometimes become the mama who can’t say “no.”  I deny them so much, and some days it really bothers me.  So I give in at probably the worst possible moments.  You know the moments…

Those walking down the aisle in Wal-Mart moments, and…there it is.

That toy I’ve never seen, but I’ve always wanted, and it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever seen…Mama, please?

Yup.  Some days I can’t take it.  And it’s a slippery slope because I have four children.  You cannot buy one kid a spontaneous toy and not do it for everybody.  I have just fed their selfish hearts.

We may not have everything, but we’ve got plenty of toys and an entire stuffed animal zoo! My heart knows that they should be content with what they have.

And every time I give in to their selfish demands for more, the less thankful they are.  Even and especially for the thing I just caved in and bought for them! I didn’t make my heart feel better, and I just encouraged their selfishness.

I know I’m not the only parent out there who delights in saying “yes” to their kids.  Even God does! (Matthew 7:11)

But God also corrects and disciplines His children. (Proverbs 3:12)

How do I be more like God on this one?  How can I teach my children to be more content and thankful on a deeper level than simply saying “no” more?

Here are some ideas rolling around in my heart and mind:

  • Teach them good, character-building Scripture.
  • Have them do things for others less fortunate than us.
  • Give them more responsibility for what we already have.

Do I already do these things to a certain extent?


Could I put more effort into it?

My children’s behavior says…Yes.

There you have it. 4 surefire ways to create selfish kids. Because we have to acknowledge where we’ve gone wrong, before we can change and start doing it right.

Some days, I don’t even know what to pray for my kids–what to ask for as a mom who wants to teach contentment, and still needs to learn it herself!   So…

Lord, I need You.  My kids need You.  Every.  Hour.

The follow-up posts:

Growing Content Kids {Part 1}

Growing Content Kids {Part 2}

Seeking Him First,


Sharing the goodness:


  • Sheila

    There is so much wisdom in this post. I think the most important thing you are doing is being their mom not their best friend. I think there are alot of parents who try to be the best friend instead of the role of mom and dad. Kudos to you both and God will honor you because you desire to honor Him.

  • Kathleen Bailey

    Great post. I think it’s normal to feed their selfish hearts when it’s your first kid or two and the more kids you have, the more you realize that just isn’t going to fly anymore. I have 5 kids but 4 who live at home so I know what you mean.

  • Blessedmom

    This is a daily effort…We have a saying (which I stole from a book) “Enough is enough for us.” I tell my kids that the only reason God gives us more than enough, more than our simple needs, is so we can share with others.

    • Susan Haines

      Thank you for sharing, Blessedmom! I may steal that as well. What a great way to put it! It is definitely a daily effort, one that God give us more than enough grace for as moms, thankfully. There are days I am only able to continue being patient with their little sinful hearts because of His love and strength in me. Blessings!

    • Susan Haines

      Gale, thanks…you are not alone! Not to mention so many other moms, God is with you! He is strong when we are weak. I also look forward to “more to come,” in the sense that I am still on this journey…sharing as I go. Can’t wait to see what God does in my family in this journey He’s got us walking.

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