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How to Help My Child Stop Being Selfish?



Reply Date

Mar 16, 2017


My son is 3 years old. He doesn’t go to a nursery. He wants whatever someone else has, no matter what it is, and refuses to share anything with anyone. We have tried to break him from this, but nothing seems to work. How to deal with this selfish boy?



As-Salaamu ‘alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhum,


At three years old, it is completely normal for a child to be what you are calling “selfish”, so don’t panic, yet! A three year old has no understanding of the world yet, i.e., that other people need to get their needs met too. The Prophet taught us to be the slave of our children until they are seven years old. Then, after that, teach them to be our “slaves”. Now, that does not mean to spoil them rotten. It does mean that we have to be by their side serving their needs, walking them through life every minute because they don’t know anything yet. We have to be their constant companion, monitoring everything they do, for this very reason—they don’t know how to do anything yet, let alone “share”. So, we are supposed to be with them helping them “learn” how to do “life”. I am not big on force—within reason. Of course, sometimes you have to just take a toy away from your child and give it to its owner, or make your child share—and hear them scream in the process.

But, I would hold them in my lap and and comfort them—if they will let you. and, if they won’t let you, I would stay near. They are very smart about one thing—if not about other’s needs and rights—they are watching you like a hawk to see if you care about their needs, or don’t care about their feelings. If you have to make them cry, be “with” them in their pain. Know in your own heart that it is a healthy learning process, i.e., a “healthy” pain, but, they don’t know that yet, so be “with” them in it so that it does not hurt more than it needs to hurt–in a different way.

They will eventually come to understanding that the world has more than one person in it. But, inShaAllah, until that time, the best approach to teaching them that is with respect for the pain of that—you can’t take it away, you can just let them know that you see that it is painful and you feel their pain, and they still need to share. When you use force, do it with love; they can tell the difference—even though they will cry like their world is crashing down on them – because it is –be firm. Comforting them is not giving it—it is sharing their problem with them-it is love!

We learn by repetition. It takes 18 times for us to “learn” something. And, in the case of kids, that means 18 years! Just kidding, but you get my point, inShaAllah. So, don’t panic. Remember, when you are feeling frustrated and the other children are mad, your child is seeing all of that and taking it in. Just keep repeating the message to him/her. Also, of course it helps to let him/her feel the pain of what it is like when others will not share with him/her… even at three, their little minds are ticking like crazy, figuring it all out.

It helps to have to siblings—like you said, your child is not in a childcare situation. Take them to play with friends and expect it to be difficult. Plan to deal with their crying while you hold them. An only-child often grows up to be a very hard-to-deal with adult, because of this very problem—they never learned to share … So, hang in there, visit other children so you can begin to face this challenge, keep being gentle but firm and repeat repeat repeat… InshaAllah.

And Allah Make it Easy for you!  

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