How Do I Change My Child's Ungrateful, Self-Centred Behaviour?

How do I change my child's ungrateful, self-centred behaviour?

I'm concerned about my young daughter's selfish attitude. She recently had a birthday, and as soon as she was finished unwrapping her gifts she started looking around for more! How do I discourage this kind of behaviour and help her develop a grateful heart?

That's an excellent question. To a great extent, the answer depends upon your daughter's age. Smaller kids - toddlers, preschoolers and even some children in the lower elementary grades - may be a bit too young to grasp ideas like unselfishness and gratitude. They're still in the process of rounding out their self-concept and grasping what it means to be an individual “self” as distinguished from the rest of the world around them. 

If your child is only five or six years old, there's probably no reason to be overly concerned about her behaviour.

Of course, it's a different matter where older children are concerned. This is where many parents come face to face for the first time with the impact of our materialistic, consumer-driven culture. Advertisers and toy manufacturers aren't in the business of helping mums and dads teach concepts like contentment and thankfulness. From their perspective, kids are primarily a lucrative sector of the “market”, and they design their publicity campaigns accordingly. As a result, children growing up in our society are conditioned to believe that they're entitled to have everything they want - right now!

One of the best ways you can counter this mentality is by modelling a grateful and selfless attitude yourself. Actions and example always speak louder than words. As you go through your daily routine, remember to express thankfulness to family, friends, relatives and co-workers on a regular basis - even for simple things, and not merely when they do something special for you.

Model gratitude in your relationships with others. Let people know how much you appreciate them just for who they are. While you're at it, express that kind of unconditional gratitude to your daughter, as well.

Another way to help your child develop a grateful heart is by serving others who are less fortunate. Volunteer to serve meals at soup kitchens. Visit an old folks home. Consider signing up to sponsor a poor child in a third-world country.

This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia ( and the Questions and Answers are extracted from “Complete Family and Marriage Home Reference Guide” by Dr James Dobson with permission.