Childhood is certainly ripe with limit-testing and tricky behavior. And let’s face it, most kids have days when they lash out at siblings, whine incessantly and would forget their head if it weren’t screwed on. With all the frustrating moments, it’s hard to know if what we’re seeing is a problem or just a phase.
The nagging question we can’t ignore is: are my kids entitled? Experts agree that entitlement is a more pervasive problem than most parents like to admit. Parents, teachers and coaches see kids of all income levels demand more, more, MORE, wonder “What’s in it for me?” and rarely show gratitude. In an article for Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Leon F. Seltzer wrote, “Those afflicted with a sense of entitlement demonstrate the attitude that whatever they want, they deserve—and automatically at that, simply because they are who they are…”
Seltzer cautions that over-entitled people miss out on the best of life. They don’t enjoy the thrill of accomplishment, the joy of selfless service or the persistence that helps us navigate challenges. They unknowingly sabotage their relationships and careers by making unreasonable demands. The result is they end up less contented and less successful than their less-entitled counterparts.
Clearly, we want to identify any signs of entitlement in our homes and tackle it head-on before it’s too late. Whether your child is a toddler or a teen, there’s still time.
Here are some of the epidemic’s most common symptoms, plus proven prescriptions to get your kids back on track.
Symptom #1: Whether they’re demanding to permanently readjust curfew to 1 a.m. or celebrate their birthday with a bounce house and a pony, they can’t take no for an answer.
It’s understandable if kids are disappointed when they don’t get what they want—aren’t we all? But if the word “no” rarely gets spoken by a parent, or it ruins everyone’s mood when it does, it’s a sure sign your kids need to hear the word more often. What’s more, if you’re bending over backward to make your kids’ childhoods magical, it could be time for a reality check. Entitled kids grow to expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter, and can’t handle the disappointment when it’s not.
The cure: A parent’s worst fear when it comes to saying no is the ugly protest that often follows. Say yes whenever you can (“Yes, I know you’re dying to get to the mall—let’s plan a time this weekend”), but when you can’t, don’t shy away from saying no. Reveal to your kids ahead of time, “When I hear whining, complaining and negotiating, I’m going to simply ignore it. I’ll be happy to have a conversation when you can talk to me respectfully.” Then they won’t be (too) surprised when you leave the room and ignore their next loud protest about how you won’t let them dig for dinosaur bones in the front yard. What’s more, keep in mind that it’s not your job to provide constant entertainment and a lavish childhood. Relax and enjoy the little things, and your kids will learn to, too.
Symptom #2: They commonly need you to rescue them from forgetfulness and failure.
My rule of thumb when it comes to kids’ requests for help is if it annoys or irritates you (usually because it’s such a common occurrence), they’re asking too much. Naturally you’d help a 3-year-old remember her backpack for preschool, but a 12-year-old? Not necessary. Same goes for talking to teachers about poor grades, or tying a second grader’s shoes or taking charge of a science project.
Frequent forgetfulness and helplessness are huge warning signs of entitlement—entitled kids feel they deserve a free ride at home and elsewhere, to be rescued from errors large and small and to be exempt from rules. Reasonable help is okay, but if you’re starting to feel annoyed or irritated, that’s a big clue it’s time for a shift in responsibility.
The cure: Tell your kids in advance, “You’re really growing up, and you can handle so many responsibilities on your own. From now on, I’m going to let you be responsible for things you can do for yourself. Starting this school year, I won’t be rescuing you when you forget your homework or supplies for school. I’m completely confident you’ll be able to handle these things by yourself.” Then, help your kids brainstorm ways to successfully take charge of their responsibilities, such as making a checklist or packing the backpack the night before. If they ask to be rescued or “need” you to pour juice for them when they’re standing right next to the fridge, politely decline. Yes, they might leave their geography homework behind on the floor of their room once or twice, but better now than down the road when it really counts.
Symptom #3: Asking your kids to empty the dishwasher is rejected as starkly as if you’d asked them to walk over hot coals.
The cure: One way to soothe the sting of eliciting their help is by offering your kids choices: “I need help with chopping veggies for dinner and with emptying the dishwasher. Which would you prefer to do?” Or, set up a When-Then: “When the dishes are unloaded, then you can have your after-school snack, but the kitchen closes at 4:15.” And to make it clear that no one gets a free ride, hand out regular responsibilities. Give kids input into regular daily or weekly tasks they can do, and switch it up so everyone gets a chance to scrub toilets or walk the beagle. To ensure they get completed, use a When-Then Routine so that the things they enjoy most happen after their responsibilities are completed. (When your family jobs are completed, then you can enjoy your 30 minutes of Netflix time.)
Symptom #4: No matter how much you give, there’s always another “gimmee.”
All kids want stuff in the store—but if they’re constantly fixated on the next big video game or a designer-handbag-of-the-month, requiring you to ritually dig into your wallet or face a tiny or teenage-sized tantrum, it’s an entitlement problem. Over-entitled kids who never seem to get enough stuff not only never feel contented, but are likely to face trouble down the road when managing their finances.
The cure: Offer a no-strings-attached allowance. Set up an age-appropriate amount to hand out on a weekly basis, and make sure your kids are clear on what costs they need to cover (Gum? Outings with friends? Clothing that’s more of a want than a need?). Give them enough money to cover their expenses, but not to be entirely comfortable. And most importantly, avoid “advancing” cash when they run low. Instead, let them suffer the indignity of sitting at home while their friends go ice skating—they’ll learn a valuable lesson worth many times their weekly income. Also important: don’t tie the allowance to chores—it’s an important budgeting tool that your kids need whether or not they’ve dusted the living room.
Symptom #5: “Thank you” is not part of their vocabulary or their attitude.
Studies show that people who are more grateful are also happier. If your kids are self-focused and unable to see the gifts they’ve been given—everything from a warm home to good neighbors to hot pancakes waiting for them at breakfast—chances are they’d benefit from a deeper sense of gratitude.
The cure: Practice gratefulness with them by modeling appreciative behavior yourself. Create a gratitude ritual for the family, for instance, going around the table at dinnertime and stating three things you’re grateful for. Be sure to graciously thank the people in your life—family members, grocery baggers, teachers, —especially when your kids are within earshot. And send the right message by valuing people over things. In time, your kids will follow suit and enjoy a more grateful lifestyle.
If you’ve uncovered some entitlement symptoms in your home, don’t worry—you’re not alone. We all face these types of issues as we try to raise our kids to be the best they can be. Un-entitled kids are happy, resourceful, responsible, helpful and caring, and no matter how affected your family might be by the entitlement epidemic, it doesn’t take a trip to the pediatrician to cure them. It takes you.
Amy McCready is the founder of PositiveParentingSolutions.com and the author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic – A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World. Find more at AmyMcCready.com.
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