A client once approached me with a rather funny conundrum: her toddler could not get enough of looking at himself in the mirror!
Every time they walked by a polished surface, the child would ask her to stop so he could observe his reflection.
My client tried to laugh this behavior off as one of the silly quirks of toddlerhood. But deep inside she felt uneasy. She started wondering if her child’s behavior was normal.
Was her kid perhaps overly self-centered?
If you’re a parent or caregiver, you might relate to this mother’s unease. After all, how many times do our young kids demand, “Look at me, look at me!”
If your child. . .
refuses to share their toys or food (or anything!) with their siblings. . .
constantly bugs their older brother or sister without any consideration for their feelings. . .
seems solely engrossed in themselves. . .
. . . should you worry that they’re being selfish or self-centered?
Healthy Self-Centeredness Leads to Consideration for Others
In her book The Drama of the Gifted Child, Alice Miller explains how children who have been allowed to experience themselves fully are the same ones who exhibit more consideration and compassion for others as they grow older.
The bottom line is that kids need to build a strong sense of self first—before they can truly consider others.
So, when is it “okay” for your child to be self-centered?
1. When they’re developing their sense of self.
As babies, our kids have an undifferentiated consciousness. Because they haven’t yet developed their sense of “otherhood,” everything is enmeshed in their perspective. They can’t identify their big toe from their pinky toe, much less understand that a child and their parents have their own set of needs.
As parents and caregivers, we should encourage our kids to develop a strong sense of “me” or “self” as separate from everyone else. A strong sense of self helps children develop the skills they need for self-direction and healthy autonomy.
2. When they’re not ready to share.
Some parents push their kids to share, not realizing that authentic compassion and consideration cannot be forced!
As the saying goes, “an apple will fall to the ground when it’s ripe.” The same logic applies to children: they will come to a skill like sharing on their own, when they’re ready.
When we try to force or push our kids to begin sharing faster, we’re not trusting the fundamental truth, which is that they will naturally begin thinking about others when they reach that developmental milestone.
3. When they need their tank filled.
As human beings, we all need to feel seen, and heard, and acknowledged—especially as children!
Giving your kid the love and attention they crave is NOT “indulging” or “spoiling” them. Wanting attention is normal, and we must meet that need to positively support our children’s development.
In fact, the underpinnings of narcissism actually begin when kids are denied the attention they need, because they grow up craving it all their lives.
Let your child know it’s completely okay (and encouraged!) to ask for what they need.
Plus, remember that your child does have a legitimate dependence on you. It’s not like they can cook a meal on their own or drive themselves to band practice! Responding to their needs is all part of what it means to be a parent.
So, if your kid comes across as self-centered, know that it’s completely normal. They need to learn healthy self-centeredness first, before they can truly consider the people around them.
Want to learn more about cultivating healthy self-centeredness in your child? Don’t hesitate to give me a shoutout. I’m happy to answer your questions.
Love and Blessings,
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A 3xTEDx speaker, media contributor, parenting coach, and a mom of two - helping families thrive by using the Guidance Approach to Parenting.