Did you know that being more selfless can actually lead to being a happier human? Well, it can.
But what, exactly, is selflessness, and why should we be teaching it to our kids?
Well, in its simplest terms, selflessness is our ability to put someone else’s needs ahead of our own without expecting a single solitary thing in return. Nada. Zero. And that’s a critical gift to add to our kids’ toolbox of life skills as they learn to navigate a world where the focus isn’t always going to be on them. Not to mention that being able to act from a truly unselfish place helps our kids learn to develop their empathetic side.
Just the simple act of thinking about someone else before we think of ourselves can help us dial into the needs and feelings of others. And in today’s kooky world, where it often feels like everyone is out for themselves, learning to forsake our own needs from time to time, for the benefit of another person, is a pretty powerful act. Also, there’s nothing more beautiful than watching someone squash their own ego and do something purely from the heart instead of from a place of personal gain. Because we all know way too many people who operate from that place of selfishness, so teaching our kids to pay attention to the needs of others is only going to help them strengthen and deepen their relationships as they grow.
But how do we pass that trait along to our kids? How do we teach and encourage our children to put someone else’s needs ahead of their own? Because that quality is just as important as teaching them empathy and kindness and generosity.
To be honest, as parents, we’re already giving our kids constant reminders to be good humans every day. We’re reinforcing qualities like resilience and gratitude so they can pay those virtues forward when they go off into the world. And teaching our kids selflessness works exactly the same way. We explain it. We model it. We call it out. And we celebrate it whenever we see it happening. Until, like all the other values and skills we teach them, it simply becomes second nature. And we remind our kids that the size or the scope of their selfless act doesn’t even matter. That’s because it truly is the gesture and the thought that counts the most, not the bigness of the deed.
The truth is, the easiest way to grow selflessness in our kids is by performing small acts of kindness every day for no other reason than to bring a smile to someone else’s face. And the way we do it is by encouraging micro acts of altruism that our kids can perform on their own, anytime they get the chance. Here are 10 examples of selflessness your kids can practice starting today:
1. Holding the door for someone
2. Giving a friend—or even a stranger—a compliment
3. Volunteering or giving to charity
4. Baking something special for a neighbor
5. Donating their old clothes or toys
6. Sending someone a note just to say hello
7. Picking up trash in the neighborhood
8. Calling their grandparents to tell them you love them
9. Being patient with others
10. Letting someone else be the center of attention
See, there’s a unique kind of joy and satisfaction that’s attached to doing something purely for the benefit of someone else and it usually doesn’t take our kids very long to internalize that sense of pride and want to keep doing more.
So, as we teach our kids the art of selflessness (because it truly is an art), make sure to remind them that selflessness incorporates lots of the qualities they’ve already learned, like kindness, thoughtfulness, and humility with the core tenant of keeping other people’s feelings in mind.
Because when we act selflessly it encourages others to do the same.
Lisa Sugarman is a parenting author, columnist & radio show host living just north of Boston with her husband and two grown daughters. She writes the nationally syndicated opinion column It Is What It Is and is the author of How to Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids And Be Ok With It, Untying Parent Anxiety, and LIFE: It Is What It Is. Lisa is also the co-host of the LIFE UNfiltered podcast on iTunes and iHeartRadio, a regular contributor on Healthline Parenthood, GrownAndFlown,Thrive Global, Care.com, LittleThings, More Content Now, and Today.com. Visit her at lisasugarman.com.
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