Care for Yourself So Your Children Learn to Care

Posted by cynthia on March 10, 2018 in Communication Skills
Care for Yourself So Your Children Learn to Care

“I do so much for my children and they just don’t appreciate it. They think only about themselves. Sometimes, I feel like I’m here simply to give them what they want. Why don’t they think about me?”

It’s developmentally appropriate for young children to think only of their needs. As their brain develops, they begin to think about other’s needs. To sacrifice their own needs for yours or someone else’s, however may not happen until late adolescence. If you have an unrealistic expectation, you could negatively judge your child and label them as selfish which would hurt your relationship. Therefore, it’s important that you take care of your needs and respectfully express them to your children.

The first way to take care of yourself is commonly described as putting on your oxygen mask first before putting on your child’s oxygen mask.

Examples of this would be taking time to care for yourself by exercising, spending time with friends, and having time alone to do as you please so you have energy to give to your children. The big challenge however, is that taking care of yourself in these ways means taking time away from your family responsibilities. This can be quite challenging.

There are two additional ways for you to take care of your needs while you are with your children. The first is by setting personal boundaries, and the second is by referring to yourself in the first person.

A personal boundary differs from rules, or limits. Boundaries refer to what you will or will not do, whereas rules or limits, address what you want your children to do or not to do. With boundaries, you’re controlling your own behavior in response to what your child does rather than directly trying to control your child’s behavior.

Here are some examples of boundaries:

“I’m not able to drive you to the store now.”

“I’ll give you an answer after you ask nicely.”

“It’s too late for me to play a game with you.”

Your boundary setting doesn’t expect children to take care of your needs. With a boundary, you teach your children how to respect and appreciate you.

The third way to take care of yourself so you are seen as an individual with needs, is to refer to yourself in the first person; as “I”.

When moms relate an interaction with their child to me, they often refer to themselves as “Mommy”, not “I”. For example, they would say to their child, “After you brush your teeth, Mommy will read you a book.” “Mommy needs a break right now.” and “Mommy needs your help now.”

Referring to yourself as Mommy, the third person, rather than I, the first person, plants certain images of you in your child’s mind. You are seen only as a mommy who cares for children. You don’t have needs of your own. It’s hard for children to connect with your needs, when you don’t directly refer to yourself as “I”. So, instead say, “After you brush your teeth, I will read you a book”, “I need a break right now”, and “I need your help.”

There is a misconception that children will learn to do for others by watching others do for them. This only teaches them to not think of others. Effective ways to teach children to care for others is by caring for yourself first and then by placing children in positions of respecting your needs as you set personal boundaries and refer to yourself with the important pronoun, “I”.

©2018 Cynthia Klein, Bridges 2 Understanding, has been a Parenting Educator since 1994. She works with parents and organizations who want more cooperation, mutual respect and understanding between adults and children. Cynthia presents her expertise through speaking, private parenting coaching sessions, and her book, Ally Parenting: A Non-Adversarial Approach to Transform Conflict Into Cooperation. She works with parents of 5 – 25-year-old children.

To learn how Cynthia can help you solve your specific challenges, contact Cynthia at,,  or 650. 679.8138 to have a complementary 45-minute discovery session. Why keep suffering? It’s time to change!








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