THE PROBLEM: I’m a little frustrated that my kids all seem to be pretty self-absorbed. It’s not that they’re not kind to others (they are!), it’s just that they all seem to be interested in only talking about themselves. I’ve got three kids ages eight to thirteen, and I notice when they’re together they don’t seem particularly interested in each other’s stories. It’s even worse when they’re with friends; all the kids butt in, telling their own stories and not listening to anybody else’s. Sometimes it’s a little embarrassing. I took my 13 yo to help with a volunteer project, and while she was packing cans of food into bags, she talked nonstop about herself: her school, her friends, her likes and dislikes. She’s a sweet kid and I don’t want to shame her by pointing this out, but I’m starting to wonder if somebody needs to, and if that ‘somebody’ should be me.
MARY SAYS: I was sitting in a coffee shop the other day, eavesdropping (just being honest here!) on a ‘first date’ between two people who had clearly met through an online app. Despite the length of the conversation and liveliness of the exchange, something felt ‘off’ to me. It looked like they were engaged, right? Having fun, no? Describing their personal histories, revealing to each other who they were…yet, what was it?
Then it hit me. Neither of them asked the other a single question the WHOLE TIME. Not one. They simply traded stories, taking turns talking about themselves.
Lest you think I’m being judgy (busted!), this trend concerns me. Yes, people should be who they are, and if they’re only interested in themselves, so be it. But oh, what a dull world! Speaking from experience, what’s going on in my own mind is rather limited. I mean, don’t I already know what’s in there? I’d MUCH rather find out what’s going on in everybody else’s!
If your children are too often ‘waiting to talk rather than listening,’ talk to them about it. Ask them to observe how different it feels when someone shows an interest in them and asks questions about their stories. You don’t need to target any of your children; this can be a general conversation about human relationships and how they work.
Let them know that talking only about oneself can ultimately be an isolating experience. Even though it feels like you’re getting to know someone, at the end of the day, self-absorption can be a pretty lonely place.
ERIKA SAYS: To be honest, most—if not all—kids are self-absorbed, and I agree it can be frustrating. I also agree you should be the one to point out this behavior to your daughter. I would prefer to tell my son about himself rather than have someone break his spirit by being less than gentle about it.
Begin by getting into the habit of teaching your children to listen—not just to respond, but to truly understand the other person, a practice called ‘active listening.’ You’ll want your kids to have this powerful tool handy as they grow into adulthood.
And be sure to model active listening yourself: at the dinner table, on a car ride, in the doctor’s office waiting room. Take time to intimately engage in conversation with each of your children. During moments like these, I like to put away the electronics— or any distraction that keeps me from actively listening to my son.
At least once a week, my son and I share our pits and peaks of the day. I like to think this will show him how to take turns talking and listening to someone else. Sometimes, we find out we both have similar peaks and pits or share the same emotions about something going on in our lives. I love doing this because it helps him learn to imagine what somebody else might be going through.
And finally, continue finding ways to serve your community. Volunteering as a family will teach your children empathy, compassion, and to look beyond their own needs. Your kiddos sound like wonderful little humans! You’re doing a great job, and with these small but significant adjustments in your household, I feel confident they will grow into generous, caring adults.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
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Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
Suzanne Johnson, mom of five children and grandma of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of Realms of Edenocht.