Teach Empathy by Role Playing
Role playing is by far the most frequent method used by professionals to reduce selfishness in people of all ages. Acting the role of another is to behave and speak as if you were that character. Research has shown that costumes and masks lead to children expressing usually inhibit behavior. Old clothes can be used to dress up and act out plays. Children can plan or improvise various themes. Actual family events or fantasies can be expressed, Puppets are excellent devices to express feelings; children can do puppet shows for family and friends. Even more effective are adults acting the role of a puppet and then switching roles. This role several enables children to see and hear another role and then act that role themselves. For example, an adult can act in an exaggerated manner like a selfish child who only thinks' of himself and wants everything. The child can also act that role, thereby focusing on the issue of selfishness. Acting out behavior can lead to that behavior becoming more under voluntary control. Most effective is the modeling that you can do by then acting the part of a caring, genuine, nonselfish individual. The potential is excellent for adults and children to act out various roles and actually experience the positive feelings involved in assuming a different, if exaggerated, role. Expressing oneself through another role is a direct way of reducing self-preoccupation. Embarrassing or sentimental feelings about others becomes more permissible in this playful "make believe" approach.
"Role reversal," mentioned above, specially promotes the understanding and acting out of another's viewpoint. By reversing roles, children directly learn about the content and frame of reference of others. Extremely effective is the learning and switching of points of view. Children can act like parents, teachers, or other authority figures, and parents can act like children. It is the experience of the feelings of others that leads to empathy for others. Children will see what it is like to deal with a child (as depicted by a parent) who does not listen, constantly interrupts, wants his own way all the time, is impatient, does not care about anyone else's point of view, etc.
A novel approach is to make tape recordings of voices and then listen. Children or adults may be surprised to hear that selfish, whining, complaining, or harsh tones of their voices. Role playing may then be used to act in a tolerant and empathic manner. This may well reverse the cycle of being selfish, being actually rejected by others, and behaving even more selfishly. A key is to intervene in the selfish pattern and assure that nonselfish behavior is practiced and then used in real life situations. In role playing, the goal is to achieve a feeling of interest in, and satisfaction from, helping others.
A variation of role playing especially appropriate for young children is "mutual story telling. Parents can readily adapt this method used by many psychotherapists. A story can be told by the child, and then a similar story told by a parent with clear value and appropriate (caring and nonselfish) behavior illustrated. You use the child's characters, but your story demonstrates concern for others and better solutions to problems. You ask your child to tell a story with a moral. Each story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. After the chold tells the story, you tell your own version. It can be instructive and fun for you to make up a story first and then have the child tell another version. Again, the point is to focus the verbalizing, and experiencing, of empathic behavior.
Demonstrate, Discus, and Reinforce Positive Result of Caring
Caring is to feel interest or concern about something or somebody. There is an implication that you share (give and enjoy with others) when you care. You can show and teach children how to care and share. Encouragement and praise should be used to promote caring in children. Any instance of caring should be positively reinforced in some manner. You should involve children in projects which require cooperation and helping others. Typical examples are collecting money for charities, teaching less able students, reading for blind people, and volunteer work in a hospital. Group experiences are invaluable for learning to help others. Activity or psychotherapy groups for choldren are designed for group memebers to help each other. Good classroom teachers also promote positive group interaction rather than only using student-to-teacher interaction.
When attempting to change attitutes, such as selfishness, some general principles apply. Positive attitudes, such as caring, develop in a context of trust, which is promoted by expressing warmth, accurate understanding, and personal disclosures of feelings and attitudes. Defensiveness does not promote an atmosphere conducive to attitude change. Feelings of being part of a unit (family, neighborhood, religion, etc.) should be stressed. Positive group feelings should be sought and emphasized. Discussions can focus on how things could be better at home, and behaviors can be discussed which would help other family members be more content. Some examples are not yelling, being neat, volunteering to help before being asked, doing things immediately and not putting them off, etc. It is the commonality of concerns that should be stressed, not the differences. The outcome of these approaches is to change the attitude of selfishness to one of caring and group belongingness.
Demonstrate and Discuss Negative Effects of Selfishness
It is not helpful to discuss selfishness while, or direcly after, a child is being selfish. Discussions should always take place under pleasant circumstances. When the child is being selfish, a quick gentle reminder is in order. Selfish situations should be discussed in order to show children the negative consequences of their behavior. Not giving others a turn, always wanting to be first, not listening when others are speaking, are good examples. Egocentric behavior is often distruptive to others and leads to poor peer relations. The consequences are that peers will not like self-centered children. A key concept is to help children see that selfish behavior often leads to their not getting what they want. Popularity, friends to play with, a good reputation, etc., are outcomes that children often want.
Self-centered children often feel justified and self-righteous. It is necessary to discuss and clarify their misunderstandings and misconceptions which may be causing their egocentric points of view. Seeing everyone as evil or potentially dangerous sets the tone for preoccupation with one's own safety. Discussing perveptions of children, based upon their past experiences, can reveal their overgeneralizing from one experience. They can learn to be more open-minded and less rigid about their expectations and perceptions. A rational problem solving approach can help a child see the negative effects of his perceptions and behavior. Solving problems requires an understanding of all sides of an issue. This is a natural and effective means of discussing and learning about the perspectives of others.