The “Me First” spirit is a little different from the Me Too Spirit, which I wrote about earlier. It is more negative than Me Too. Whereas Me Too is an understandable desire for me to be involved in something nice you’re doing, Me First asserts that I need it first–that I am better than you, that I deserve the best part before you.
As you can tell, I am not a fan of the Me First Spirit. When it comes up, I nip it in the bud. If appropriate, I make the person who was trying to be first actually go last. A good example is when I yell, “Dinnertime!” Three sets of pounding feet rush down the hallway, which is so cute. But if I see anyone doing pulling the “clothesline,” an arm outstretched so that the two people behind him can’t get around first without being decapitated, I automatically make that person stop, wait for his brothers to pass, and then walk slowly the rest of the way. Getting out the door is another good time to enforce the rule, as our boys often fight to turn the knob and push open the screen. Sometimes they even fight to be first when they’re cleaning up their toys! Can you believe that? I actually have to tell them to wait for a slower brother to pick something up (lest the lazy one take advantage of the motivated one), and to keep the closet door open until everyone has had a chance to put something away. Times like these are good opportunities to practice “those who would be first shall be last.” I have quipped this to them before, but I am careful not to say it too much because I don’t believe moralizing from the Bible is necessarily the best way to get them to like it, or to change their hearts. A better way to correct them, I have found, is to hold them back while saying something like, “Mommy will go last with you. Mommy doesn’t mind being last.”
Another time this attitude is unacceptable is when a new toy makes its way into the home. Especially if it is somebody else’s present, they may not fight over who gets to use it first. Again, Me Too is acceptable, but Me First is not. If the recipient of the present needs some time with his gift, I normally give it to them in private so they can “max out” on it before turning it over to the vultures (their brothers) for a turn.
As an aside, I don’t really believe that opening presents in front of young siblings is a great idea. Of course it is important for them to learn how to be good sports, but making a 2-, 3-, or 4- year old understand this is probably wishful thinking. I know adults who don’t like to watch people open all kinds of gifts they’d want! At this age, discouraging jealousy among them is more important to me than making them be good sports, so I don’t make a big scene about giving a child a gift. Sometimes they open it when other people are around, and sometimes I take them in private just to bless them and hug them and tell them how much I love them… but I never sit them down with a cake and candles and singing (which is jealousy-provoking enough), and then give them a mound of gifts to wade through in front of everybody. It provokes bitterness, materialism, and devaluing of gifts. One to three presents correctly timed throughout the day makes plenty of birthday or Christmas for toddlers. (Just a suggestion! If you are the Bury-Them-in-Presents type, then more power to you =)
Getting back to Me First, though, it is so important to address it in the home where they can be gently corrected because people outside the home may not react so rationally. No-one likes a Me First kid, adult or child, and your little one could quickly become neglected or even a bully if this tendency is not curbed. Of course it is totally normal for little children and therefore should be addressed calmly. But it should not be winked at. I am a big believer in “the little things” because I see that is how our kids learn. They don’t learn from moralizing lectures or abstract principles, but they do learn from the details in their lives. Something as small as holding closet doors open or prohibiting “clotheslines” goes a long way to demonstrating that they can be patient for blessings and that the world is not their due. And if they learn this now, the world will indeed bless them and be blessed by them for many years to come.