Author: Lori Wildenberg
“There are many graduates today who expect the corner office with a view, flexible work time, and birthdays off.” The placement counselor was describing some senior students and their expectations upon graduation from the university to the parents of the incoming freshman. She went on to implore parents to stop being their child’s alarm clock, to never call the professors, and quit being the child’s homework proofer (or doer).
Entitlement has gone too far when college graduates are unable to take ownership of their life and work for those office perks.
Are we raising a generation of kids who have unrealistic life expectations? Do they believe they should have what their parents have when they graduate? In our desire to keep our kids happy, perhaps we have shielded them from struggle only to create more problems for them when future difficulties come their way.
We overstep and take over, inhibiting the development of our kids’ perseverance and patience. Many young people leave college unprepared for the adult world. The unbridled, unearned, and insincere positive reinforcement given so freely does more harm than good. It can produce young adults who believe the world revolves around them and think the world owes them.
Here are 10 ways to stop childhood entitlement before it goes too far.
1. Teach your child how to converse.Don’t allow your child to dominate conversation. Conversation happens when all participate. Talking and listening are exchanging roles, a give and take. The spotlight moves from one to another.
Let him have his moment in the sun but teach him that the sun shines on others as well. Show him how to honor others with good conversational and listening skills: Focus on others, make eye contact, ask questions, and use the other person’s name.
Some parents have found success in using a conversation stick. A stick is passed around the group. The person holding the stick is the one to speak while the others listen and ask questions. After a designated amount of time has passed, the next person is the speaker. This is a good way for a child to learn the skill of conversation.
2. Provide opportunities for delayed gratification.Avoid giving into every want or desire. Instead give your child the gift of learned patience and perseverance. Entitled kids have little endurance when they want to possess or achieve something.
Allow for opportunities that build a child’s work ethic. Let him persevere through a tough assignment or work for a desired item. This will increase his ability to wait for the payoff. Gratefulness will have a chance to grow along with the knowledge that hard work pays off. Once he finally achieves his goal, he will be more appreciative of the item’s value and proud of his accomplishment.
3. Evaluate your family values.Examine how you talk. Notice what captures your interest. Do you focus on power, popularity, presentation (looks), prestige, position, or possessions? If so, does that line up with the values you hope your children embrace?
For example, if you value wisdom over knowledge, talk more about how someone made a smart decision over a person’s grade point average.
Consider encouraging desirable characteristics over accomplishment or appearance. “You are thoughtful. I noticed how you held the door for the woman with the baby.” Instead of saying, “You are so beautiful.” There is nothing wrong with complimenting exterior appearance; just be sure you give equal time to the characteristics you hope your child will develop.
Take it a step further and challenge yourself. Write a list of qualities you hope will describe your child. Line that list up against the type of conversation you have with your friends or spouse. If the topics don’t reflect the things you really value, make an effort to begin noticing and talking about qualities you really care about.
4. Train kids to clean up after themselves.Entitled people casually drop litter and carelessly leave garbage for others to collect. They act as if they are king and queen of the environment and can be as thoughtless as they want to be. They have no regard for the mess they create and no consideration for those who deal with it.
Train kids to bus their dishes, pick up their toys, and to pitch in as a part of the family by lending family members a hand. Learning to be respectful of property and people makes a person a good friend and a good citizen.
5. Focus on the giver not the gift.An ungrateful gift receiver is a major indicator of entitled and selfish behavior. Entitled kids have no appreciation for another’s feelings. Gratefulness and appreciation need to be taught. This is a skill to be learned.
Before a birthday party, train your child how to focus on the giver instead of the gift. Help your children appreciate the thought that went into the gift rather than expect the perfect present. Say something like, “Jackson went to the store and picked this out just for you. He took time to find something he thought you would enjoy. He’s a good friend.”
6. Encourage ownership.Entitled kids are passive and blame others when things don’t go their way. Ownership and responsibility are the cures. Let the homework, the grades, and the results of a test be the child’s. Resist the urge to say, “We should have studied harder.” Or, “I should have spent more time on this with you.” Instead ask, “How will you do this differently the next time?” The child needs to know he can influence the outcome by his own hard work.
Parental support, encouragement, and availability are critical when a child is struggling.
But… avoid the urge to fix or rescue if increased personal responsibility and motivation are the goals. It helps the rescuer type parent to remember the fruit that comes from a struggle or even a failure. Creative thinking, perseverance, humility, empathy, and compassion are five positive characteristics that grow when hardship is experienced.
7. Define wants and needs.Help you children understand the difference between wants and needs. An entitled person thinks his wants are even more important than another’s needs. He prefers not to wait in line but the person in front was there first. While driving, he may want to respond to that text but safety for all trumps personal texting. When served a meal at another’s home, something else may be preferred but good manners tell us to say thank you and eat what is served.
Entitled people have difficulty when they don’t get what they want or they are inconvenienced. Stop this me first, all about me attitude by focusing on the needs and feelings of the other people. Provide the child a perspective that is larger than their own personal world.
Even if our kids get everything they want, they will never be satisfied. The wants create more wants. It is a black hole craving to be filled. It is good for our children to experience the word “no” as it relates to wants.
8. Model and practice consideration.Life gives us lots of moments to practice consideration. Actions like giving up a seat on public transportation for a pregnant woman or elderly person, allowing a shopper with two items in her cart to go ahead of you in line, opening the door for someone, walking with rather than walking ahead of companions, offering the last piece of desert to another person, or bussing a family member’s dinner plate are all small acts of kindness where the value of serving over being served is demonstrated.
Model these types of acts for your children. Discuss why you gave up your seat or opened the door. Kindness and consideration don’t come naturally. These qualities need to be taught so they can be caught.
9. Develop intrinsic motivation.Often parents give rewards for behavior or grades in the hopes of affecting behavior. A mom or dad may say, “If you can cooperate while we are doing our errands, I will buy you an ice cream cone.” If this approach is used too much, kids will begin asking, “What do I get for doing this?”
Behavior modification is a Band-Aid solution. We want our kids to do the right thing because it’s right, not because they get something for it. To encourage internal drive, our kids need to have some skin in the game and care about the outcome. Asking, “What did you learn? What was enjoyable? How did you feel after you put forth all that effort? Knowing what you now know, how will you approach a similar situation?” These types of conversations kick start intrinsic motivation.
10. Understand we are all equal at the foot of the cross.Entitled people believe they are more special and more deserving than anyone else. Without realizing it, parents add fuel to the fire by saying things like, “You deserve to get that part.” “He (she) doesn’t deserve you.” “You deserve be waited on.” “You don’t deserve this treatment.” We are worthy because God created each one of us—on purpose and Jesus shows us our value—we are all worth dying for.
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:1-4)