To the modern parent, entitled behaviour causes endless worries, not to mention the dreaded parental guilt: “Did I spoil my child?” “Where did I go wrong?” “It is all my fault…” An entitled child is a child crying out for help—but that might not be obvious to them or to their parents. The help they are crying out for is linked to their own inability to regulate feelings such as sadness, stress, fear, anger, boredom, inadequacy, loneliness and rejection. A child who acts entitled is seeking stuff or special privileges as a means of distracting or deflecting from these uncomfortable feelings. Giving them the things they are demanding is not truly what they are looking for from their parents. On the surface that is what it may seem like however, beneath the surface are feelings that need understanding rather than indulgence.
If you are reading this because your child’s behaviour has become more entitled in nature than grateful, not to worry. If you are just at the start of your journey and are pregnant or have an infant – you’re reading this at the perfect time. We want to help parents recognize the pitfalls so they are equipped with the know-how to avoid entitlement or face it head on if entitlement has already hit their household. We know that as Western culture spreads globally, it supports children and youth in their desire for wanting more, this can reinforce an expectation from our kids expect more ‘stuff’, special privileges and rewards without any effort on their part.
If we don’t reprogram or buffer these cultural pressures in our families specifically, we are likely to end up with children who are not satisfied with themselves or their lives, are less capable and who are self-centred. Generation Y has a reputation as being narcissistic, ungrateful and entitled, expecting jobs, university placements, high salaries, and families and friends that give, give, give. We’re just understanding now how the efforts of this past generation of parents, in efforts to build kids with high self-esteem, to provide comfortable and enriched environments, and to have happy children have unwittingly encouraged entitlement in their families.
The shift from being entitled to grateful for a child is dependant on the speed in which the parents change. We have found that it is a necessity for parents to live and model gratitude and kindness first. Verbal teaching or discussions about how the child should be is not effective in bringing about change in their children, the parent must lead the way.
What Is Entitlement?
Let’s take a look at how we define entitlement:
- The belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment
- A belief a person is owed certain rights and benefits without further justification.
- The right to receive something or to do something.
People describe entitlement as an ugly characteristic. Children we have spoken to say that even they do not like the feeling that comes with taking things for granted. It is frustrating for parents and unflattering when noticed by others in the community. The good thing is that feeling like you have a “right” to something is a learned behaviour—which means it can be unlearned.
If you are looking out for whether your child might have already caught the Entitlement Bug, these will likely be their reactions to you saying “NO!”
- Disbelief: “You’re joking right?”
- Anger: “I hate you.”
- Pleading: “Pleeeease…I’ll do recycling for a week. Aww come on. Why not?!”
- Rejection of parent: “I wish Jeffrey’s parents were my parents.”
The Truth about Entitlement
Children are not born entitled. They are made. We have found that in almost all cases, entitled kids have parents who have unwittingly encouraged entitlement through trying to make their child’s lives better. We call these actions misguided efforts. This is when well-intentioned actions or statements are given to our children and they end up backfiring and result in poor outcomes. For example, when parents intervene too soon in the interpersonal problems when the child has not had an opportunity to solve the friend issues themselves, or when a parent gives a flashy item to their child in order for their child to receive positive regard or admiration from their peers, these are examples of these misguided efforts.
These parents tend to want to attempt to help their child avoid discomfort by meeting all their needs without teaching their child to meet their own needs or to communicate that they need more skills to solve their own problems.
Entitlement Busting How To’s: Avoid doing the following!
Making your child YOUR LIFE:
It is good to make your child a top priority, but you should never devote the majority of your time to meeting their every need and desire. The world does not revolve around them, and it is important that they understand this. It will benefit our kids if they realize that we are more than child-satisfaction delivery agents.
Not allowing your child to FEEL FRUSTRATED:
When your child feels frustration, it builds character and strength and shows them that they can be okay even when they do not have everything that they want, and when they are not as comfortable as they desire to be. Allow your child to feel bored, irritated, or dissatisfied sometimes —it will give them the opportunity to practice the developmentally appropriate coping and resilience strategies that you have (hopefully) taught them teach them how to cope with these emotional states, to meet their own needs, or to make do with less.
OVERIDENTIFYING with your Child’s Discomfort:
Parents that are overly involved with their child’s feelings find it tough to tolerate the sound and words of their distressed or disappointed child. This discomfort with coping with a child’s discomfort ignites a type of parenting that features ‘helicopter parenting’ behaviours such as constantly tending-to, fussing over, and fixing the problems of their children.
REWARDING Unwanted Behaviours:
Do not reinforce negative behaviours such as disrespectful voice tone, demandingness, whining, complaining, or staged temper tantrums by attending to their discomforts or giving your child what he/she wants.
OVERCOMPENSATING for Parental Shortcomings:
Ensuring that you don’t make decisions about whether to allow special activities, treats or opportunities as a parental guilt-reducer to compensate for working late, missing school functions due to work commitments, or being emotionally unavailable to your children.
As you can see, we are more concerned about this and future generations of children being happy and satisfied, emotionally strong and capable than we are just with avoiding children who act spoiled or ungrateful in public. The entitled behaviour that we might see a child displaying outwardly is simply a symptom of the internal turmoil of an unsatisfied, unhappy child who is lacking in resilience. We’re seeking to appeal to parents that gratitude is not just about teaching your children to appreciate how lucky they are and reminding them to robotically recite Thank You. Crushing entitlement is about more than actions; it’s more about encouraging a particular way of being in the world that features appreciation of giving as well as receiving, a focus acknowledging the good on a day-to-day basis, and gratitude for things that might have been previously taken for granted.
Article courtesy of:
Drs. Carla Fry and Lisa Ferrari, Registered Psychologists
Directors- Vancouver Psychology Centre (Vancouver & West Vancouver locations)
Founders- Real Parenting Lab
Authors of Gratitude and Kindness: A Modern Parent’s Guide to Raising Children in an Era of Entitlement.
This article was originally published in the March 2016 PULSE.