Child self-centeredness: do I have an egotist child?

January 5, 2024

Sooner or later it happens to parents to find themselves grappling with the so-called “child self-centeredness” phase, a time of growing up characterized by a strong sense of possession toward material objects, which is expressed in fights and crying, for example, to grab a toy or parental attention, and the famous phrase “it’s mine!”

Behaviors that are often misunderstood and confused with selfishness, but belong to an important and entirely physiological growth process.

From the age of 18 months, the child takes an incredible step forward in terms of maturing cognitive skills and building personality. He learns to relate to the world, and he begins to say his first words, but he is not yet able to understand that there is a distinction between himself and others: his experience and discoveries are strictly personal and focused on the fulfillment of his needs.

Only by building his own identity will the child later be able to understand that there are other views besides his own.

So, if your little one is also at this stage, know that his self-centeredness is functional and that his being an individualist will positively guide him in self-discovery.

Possessiveness in children

Starting at 18 months, the child gradually begins to discover that there is a boundary between himself, the world, and others. This process is known as “self-identification”: the little one begins to conceive of himself as a separate being, separate from his parents and with his capacity for thought.

This is where infant egocentrism takes over: his worldview is centralizing, and his role in relation to others is predominant.

All this manifests itself in stubborn disobedience, with the many “no’s” “I” and “my” so feared by parents, a phase also dubbed “The Terrible Two Years” but which represent tools for the little ones to assert their own will.

Through the word “my” little ones fight to earn their place in the world.

How best to help the little one overcome the stage of infantile egocentrism

While it is true that an important stage of cognitive and personal maturation takes place in childhood egocentrism, we should not forget the importance of guiding the child toward learning empathic, cooperative, and bonding skills.

The possessive phase in the child can last several years, usually until post-nursery school (find out the right age for nursery school here), but it should not put parents off.

Your role is to gradually educate the little one to better manage his or her own needs and desires within a context of socialization, and to learn to recognize and manage his or her own emotions, this does not mean recognizing and ignoring them!

At this stage, the child is faced with some small but important difficulties, among them is precisely sharing favorite toys, with which children tend to identify.

At daycare and preschool, children learn to relate to peers, to clash with the needs of others, and to come to terms with their own self-centeredness. In between fights over a toy snatched from their hands, little ones experience how to resolve and avoid conflict, how to deal with feelings of frustration, and what it means to wait one’s turn.

Child self-centeredness: what should I do?

These behaviors are often sources of sibling disputes over space, games, and even adults.

In practice, they discover that playing together is possible, and also much more fun!

Even on the condition that they have to give up something or give up a game. The biggest mistake one can make in this meet-and-greet phase is to intervene.

As a rule, these situations do not require the active intervention of an adult. Instead, it is much more helpful to let the child experiment on his own, helping him understand what is really his and what is not.

Only children may have more difficulty sharing, as they are used to believing that everything around them belongs to them. In these cases, it is important to try to arrange as many meetings as possible with other children: at first, confrontations and crying may be frequent, but with a little patience on the part of the parents, support, and empathy, the child will understand what it means to share.

If you invite friends over, a little trick to make the child feel comfortable is to set aside, choosing together momentarily, the games he is most fond of. Try reassuring him that in this way no one will be able to touch or break them, but pointing out that the other toys can be used by everyone.

Childhood egocentrism and sharing

Self-centeredness is innate in children, but in the total absence of rules and limits, it can become a problem. That is why in most schools children are not allowed to bring toys from home but must learn to share and use those provided for everyone by the facility. This simple rule helps “self-centered” little ones cope more peacefully with their relationship with their peers, within a different and more structured environment than the family environment.

In contrast, expecting a child who is only 2 years old to willingly share his toy turns out to be a really difficult behavior to enact at this age.

Always mind that his frustration might spark from some kind of trouble, for example, a speech delay, for which we advise the intervention of a speech therapist.

Sharing should never be a forced act, but a spontaneous action, which takes over only with growth, when, around the age of 5-6 years, little ones begin to actively interact with their peers, for example, by giving one’s toy to a peer or by actively participating, through one’s work, in school group activities.

The child, therefore, should never be scolded or even worse forced to share, but encouraged through good example to follow the correct attitude.
High-sounding reprimands and “rants” about selfishness would not affect the child except to exacerbate his or her sense of loss and frustration.
Simply put, a parent’s positive behavior will be easily imitated by the child.
Children learn much faster through concrete examples than through words.

Therefore, within the family setting it is advisable to involve even very young children in normal daily activities, such as helping mom and dad clear the table or tidy up toys. Group activities can also be organized, such as coloring together on one large card, and exchanging pencils.

By feeling useful, the child will understand the true meaning of cooperation and what each other’s needs are.

The importance of establishing a good positive dialogue with one’s child and structuring a daily routine in a balance between freedom and rules, autonomy and support, are the foundations for a respectful and balanced family.

To do all this, all family members need to be consistent and respectful of each other.
If you need help with this, feel free to contact us.

SOURCES

Brown GL, Mangelsdorf SC, Neff C, Schoppe-Sullivan SJ, Frosch CA. Young Children’s Self-Concepts: Associations with Child Temperament, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Parenting, and Triadic Family Interaction. Merrill Palmer Q (Wayne State Univ Press). 2009;55(2):184-216. doi: 10.1353/mpq.0.0019. PMID: 25983365; PMCID: PMC4429799.