“Now what do you say?” a mother asks. “Thank you,” the child replies. It’s the time-honored way parents begin to teach their children to show gratefulness and kindness. But often that lesson stops at mere words, and the reason why we say thank-you is lost. The attitude of gratitude becomes one of entitlement.
Jim Fay, co-author of From Innocence to Entitlement: A Love and Logic Cure for the Tragedy of Entitlement, observes that entitlement is a growing epidemic in our culture. “When I see kids who are arrogant and have that sense of entitlement, the word that really hits me is struggle,” he says. “They haven’t had to struggle for anything. It’s all been easy.” Parents might think they’re helping their children avoid challenges, but learning through struggles and pressing through failures can be opportunities for growth. Fay points to the story of “The Emperor Moth and The Struggle” to illustrate what he often sees parents do. A man tries to help the emperor moth out of its cocoon, but he ends up crippling it because that struggle of pulling its wings out of the cocoon is what makes it strong enough to fly. “That is exactly what we do with our kids,” Fay says.
Doing or giving everything to our children creates a sense of entitlement in which children expect what they’re given, rather than earning what they deserve. “It comes from a good place. We want to offer them the best opportunities, but it can go too far. They start to believe they’re due all of these things,” says Chris Jones, M.A., L.P.C., with LifeWorks Counseling Center. “Children that I come across who have an arrogance or entitlement about them are often over-indulged. They have lost perspective on what is privilege and what they deserve.”
Putting an end to the attitude of entitlement doesn’t happen overnight, and turning around the “Me-me-me Train” requires everyone to be on board – including the parents. Jones recommends parents start by asking themselves, “Why am I providing all of these things? Am I trying to keep up an image?” and then begin teaching children about money management. “Kids can start to earn some of the things versus sitting back and expecting they will get that game or toy,” Jones says. “Then they begin to see the connection between work and reward.” Another area where kids can turn their entitlement into fulfillment is doing household chores that parents often do for them. “Parents need to reel in their tendencies to do everything for the kids, acting as servants,” Fay says. “Kids need meaningful household duties, but I’m not talking about chores that make their lives better such as cleaning their rooms. They need to do things that will benefit the entire family and make life better for others.” Through acts of service and kindness, the child will begin to disconnect from feelings of entitlement.
And there is a but – just because your child begins to show good behavior doesn’t mean parents should pull out their wallets to donate to the cause. Dr. Michele Borba, parenting expert and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, cautions parents not to reward children for expected behavior. “Stop bribing or rewarding your kid’s efforts. It’s OK to acknowledge the behavior and offer verbal praise, but your child must gain a sense of pride that he accomplished something for the joy of doing it,” Borba says.
Parents need not despair if they find their children entangled in a web of entitlement. They can start the unraveling process. It might be rough at first, but it will eventually lead to children who no longer need a prompt to say please and thank-you.