Does your child expect you to do things for him or her? Do they rarely lift a finger to help? Are they quick to blame others? Do they try to manipulate people to get their way? Do you spend a lot of time rescuing them? For instance, maybe you remind them about deadlines, finish their projects and drive forgotten items to school.
Does your child freak out when they don’t get their way? Do you find yourself resorting to bribes and rewards to get them to cooperate? Do you bend over backwards for them? For instance, maybe you make three different dinners to satisfy all three kids’ appetites. Maybe you rush out to buy their favorite toothpaste. Maybe you work extra to give them a pricey wardrobe every season.
If you do, you might have an entitlement problem in your home, according to Amy McCready in her excellent new book The Me, Me, Me Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World. McCready is the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions.
Entitlement is simply “the idea that life owes us something,” she writes. “Children of all ages feel entitled to receive the best of what life has to offer without working for it, to have their whims catered to by their parents and a path paved for success.”
This is problematic. Kids start thinking that the world revolves around them. And they’re ill-prepared for reality. When they inevitably don’t get their way, they have a harder time bouncing back and learning from mistakes. They aren’t used to working hard or persevering. They lose out on feeling the satisfaction of accomplishing difficult, challenge-riddled goals. And their lack of empathy sabotages relationships.
In The Me, Me, Me Epidemic McCready shares real-life examples along with 35 practical tools to help parents put an end to entitlement and raise resilient, capable kids. Here are three tools and related insights from the book.
Spend “Mind, Body and Soul Time” with your child.
McCready calls this the most important tool in her “Un-Entitler Toolbox.” It focuses on giving your child a sense of belonging and significance. These are the two most basic psychological needs, according to psychologist and medical doctor Alfred Adler.
As McCready notes, “A sense of belonging is achieved when a child feels emotionally connected to other family members. He knows his place in his family and how he fits in. A sense of significance comes from feeling capable, being able to make meaningful contributions to his family and having a sense of personal power — some level of influence or control over what happens to him.”
During “Mind, Body and Soul Time” (MBST) a parent sets aside 10 minutes once or twice a day to spend with their child. (Twice a day is especially helpful for young kids.) Turn off all distractions, including your phone, TV and computer. Be fully present in your mind, body and soul. Do whatever your child wants to do (within reason) for 10 minutes.
Give this time a name, such as “Together Time.” You can do this anywhere, at home or in the car. You might jog with your daughter as she’s training for her cross-country meet, or play with your son as he’s taking his bath. At the end, label your time and say something like: “I really enjoyed our special time together! I can’t wait to paint more dinosaurs with you tomorrow!”
Stop giving in to your child’s demands.
Giving your kids everything they want leads to entitlement. The more you give, the more they ask. McCready suggests starting small. Identify one give-in that’s stressing you out. Create a rule around it, and tell your child. For instance, “You can use my iPad for 15 minutes per day” or “You’re old enough now to make it through the store without a cookie.”
Expect your kids to push back. But be firm. Let them be disappointed. Be honest with them. For instance, you might say: “Sorry kids – business hasn’t been great this year, so we’ll have to skip the water park” or “I’m feeling so rushed in the mornings that I can’t manage to pack your lunch. You’re old enough to take on the job, and I’ll really appreciate your help.”
Give your kids a chance to help you problem-solve. McCready shares these examples: “We’re all disappointed about the water park, but maybe we can all try to find some ways to save up so we can go next summer. Any ideas?” or “Can anyone think of some ways we can streamline our morning routine so we don’t have problems getting out the door on time?”
Empower your kids to do things on their own.
Another thing that contributes to entitled kids is when well-meaning parents take care of everything for them. This deprives your kids of a fulfilling adulthood. And it sends the message that they’re unable to do these things for themselves. According to McCready, when you discourage your kids from trying a task, you communicate: “You’ll only mess it up” or “You’re too little to be any help.”
Letting your child contribute to the family and to their own lives sets them up for success. It teaches them life skills and teamwork.
She suggests training younger kids on one task, experience or behavior each week, and older kids once a month. At first pick something they’re excited to learn. Your training can go beyond household and self-care activities. For instance, you can train your kids how to interview for a job and respectfully disagree with an adult.
McCready also suggests creating a list of age-appropriate “family contributions” that your kids can do every day or once a week. For instance, make your 4-year-old responsible for making her bed and putting away her laundry. Have your 9-year-old change his sheets and clean the bathroom counters. Have your 17-year-old prepare a family dinner every Tuesday and take out the trash.
Avoid rewarding your child for completing contributions. According to McCready, “A job well done is a reward in itself, and rewards actually erode the positive payoffs such as pride in one’s work, working as a team and more … help your kids understand that family contributions are part of living under your roof.”
You love your children, so it’s understandable that you don’t want them to be disappointed or upset. You want to give them what you didn’t get, which might translate to giving them everything. But this only makes them entitled and means they miss out on learning important lessons and life skills. Thankfully, there are practical strategies you can employ to change course.
Mom and daughter baking photo available from Shutterstock