How do you define these words, do you view one as GOOD and one as BAD?
Selfishness is the act of placing one’s own needs or desires above the needs or desires of others and the opposite is altruism or selflessness.
In research carried out by the National Institute of Health, neuroscientists showed that both pure monetary rewards and charitable donations activated the ‘reward pathway’, a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food and sex. However, when volunteers placed the interests of others before their own by making charitable donations, another brain circuit was selectively activated. These structures are intimately related to social attachment and bonding in other species. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable. In layman’s terms that first and foremost the “altruist” is receiving pleasure, which is the motivation for the behaviour.
How does this relate to parenting?
Once you accept that the idea of placing others needs above your own is a learned behaviour it allows for greater understanding when negotiating with children. Most parents understand the concept of “sharing” cannot be expected to be understood or consistently exhibited by children under 3. Children only learn this behaviour by prioritizing ‘mum’s approval’ or a reward over their immediate desires, but manners are often seen as a direct reflection of how GOOD a parent you really are! If your child is RUDE then you must be doing something WRONG. We want our children to represent us in such a way as to illustrate that we are getting life and parenting RIGHT.
It is helpful when teaching our children how to relate to others socially to separate WORTH from BEHAVIOUR. They are not worth less if they are impolite and don’t share and worth more when they show manners and do share. There will be consequences to either behaviour and they will quickly make the connection between being received well by adults and therefore getting more of what they want, and being perceived as rude and not getting what they want. Manners are ultimately about me behaving in a certain way for me to get what I want, be it as simple as getting a great coffee, a new job, love or general approval, it is ultimately ALWAYS about me first.
‘Manners’ are all about how you are perceived by others, and yet parents often use them as a means of controlling and preventing their children (and thus themselves) from being seen in an unfavourable light.
Of course manners have a role to play as part of a child’s learning to flourish in society, but I think it is important to accept that manners are not about learning to put others first… this is where so many children grow up to be adults and parents that honestly believe they are putting others needs above their own and build resentment around it. I work with parents everyday, particularly mothers, who once they embrace this concept fully feel so empowered by it that many perceived issues disappear overnight. It is easier to label “issues” as something outside of yourself but ultimately (as Gandhi once said) “everything you feel is your own creation.”