I’m all for helping a child grasp the significance of his own unique worth. But if that effort of worth-building isn’t balanced with instilling a genuine appreciation of and respect for others, a child easily can become the epicenter of his or her own universe. And a child who believes he is more special than others can be as much of a challenge as one who believes he isn’t special at all.
Most teachers and coaches will tell you: A too-special child has been done no favors. Believing she is more special than others, she quite naturally puts herself first; it’s what she believes is right. A too-special child often abides by his own me-centric rules and paradigm, often making it difficult for him to make true friends, as well as to respect/gain the favor of the very adults who are in place to help him succeed.
Too Special is a misplaced confidence that unfortunately serves to alienate a child who inherently does have a great deal to offer.
So how do we counter-balance a tendency to Too Special? As I mentioned earlier, one approach is to be cognizant of balancing the scales, of helping kids of all ages grasp the significance of not only their own worth but also the worth of others. For this, I have learned to use the gift of selfishness. Yes, selfishness. It makes sense, I promise. I call it Good Selfish.
Often I use my book Frieda B. and the Zillabeast to be my narrative when teaching this lesson of Good Selfish. In the beginning of the story, Frieda B. ignores her mom (calling her down to breakfast) and her dog, Zilla (scratching at the door to go downstairs for food), and has chosen instead to do what she wants to do. This is not Good Selfish. This is Bad Selfish.
As the story goes on, we see Zilla getting bigger, growlier on every turn of the page. He’s hungry. Frieda didn’t feed him. Zilla is paying the price for Frieda’s Bad Selfish.
However, here’s where the Good Selfish comes in… toward the middle of the story, Zilla (who has taken on a beastly appearance due to his hunger) has an opportunity to eat the food that has just landed in front of him, out of Little Red Riding Hood’s basket.
But he doesn’t eat it. Why not? Because that’s the right thing to do. He is putting Little Red Riding Hood ahead of himself. And in doing so, he is choosing Good Selfish.
Essentially, Good Selfish is this, and it is very easy for kids of any age to grasp: If I take care of others, others will take care of me. The motivation is to create community for myself, people who will love and support me. It is selfish, but in a good way. If I only take care of me, I only have myself to rely on. But if I take care of lots of other people, I have lots of people to love and support me in return. It’s actually the model for good citizenship: Everyone has a unique worth and story, and by supporting and respecting one another we can create something bigger and better than ever we could alone.
And who doesn’t want more of that in this world, right?
Toward the end of the story, right after Zilla has chosen not to eat Little Riding Hood’s food, she does something beautiful in return: She reaches out and feeds him. Now she puts him first. They both choose Good Selfish. And it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
In this world where children are getting mixed messages about their worth, my hope is that many more of us will help them find their unique place and story within a loving, supportive and authentic community… of balancing the scales juuuuuust right.
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