Parents certainly don’t intend to raise deserving children – children who think the world around them owes them something – but it does happen.
And not just for children who grow up with privileges (financial or otherwise); it can really happen to anyone. Children develop a sense of entitlement largely because of the way they are parents – for example, if they don’t give them enough responsibility or teach them how to deal with setbacks. Raising children without rights is important not only because parents generally want to raise good humans. It’s also important because going through life with a sense of entitlement can have a real impact on their long-term emotional and mental well-being.
Fortunately, experts say it’s easy enough to contain a child whose sense of entitlement has spiraled out of control – if you know what to watch out for. Here are five signs to watch out for and some simple changes you can make right away.
Red Flag # 1: They Can’t Take Care Of Themselves
Obviously, children cannot fully meet their own needs, but “the responsibility of teaching is a huge and enormous task of parenting,” said Aliza Pressman, co-founder of the Mount Sinai Parenting Center and facilitator of the “Raising Good Humans” podcast.
And a very effective way for children to begin to develop a sense of responsibility is to manage some of their own personal care.
So toddlers can start dressing themselves (or at least trying to put on an outfit or two) as they develop the gross and fine motor skills needed to do so – and parents should give them space and time to “play with buttons and zippers,” experts say. Preschoolers can start washing in the tub (although they still need to be supervised for safety reasons). Most children 8 and older can brush their teeth. And so on.
Of course, these are estimates and children all learn at their own pace. But the goal should be to empower children to do things on their own – and let them know that is expected of them.
“Children who are entitled to it may end up not being particularly proficient,” Pressman said.
Red flag # 2: they don’t have consistent tasks
Children shouldn’t just be responsible for helping take care of themselves; they should also help around the house.
“Having age-appropriate tasks is not a burden; it shows that you are a useful member of the house, ”Pressman said. “And just because you don’t want it doesn’t mean you don’t have to.
It doesn’t matter what specific chores you give your kids, though obviously they should be age-appropriate, Pressman said. And you can start pretty young! Toddlers love to help clean up, for example, she says. Leave them!
A word of advice: consider giving the kids at least one chore that is truly family oriented. “Part of the power of chores is teaching your child the importance of helping others,” clinical psychologist Stephanie O’Leary wrote in a Pittsburgh Parent article on the benefits of housework. “If the chores include tasks that only benefit your child, like making their bed or cleaning their room, that lesson is lost.”
Red Flag # 3: They Don’t Know How To Lose
A mistake that many parents make unintentionally? “Make their kids expect things to always be right,” Pressman said.
They won’t always win. There will not always be a trophy. This is also true later in life, and it can be really helpful to ground children in these lessons now.
As the Child Mind Institute explains, “Failure to learn to tolerate failure makes children vulnerable to anxiety. This leads to meltdowns when inevitable failure occurs, whether in preschool or college. And perhaps more importantly, it can make kids give up trying – or trying new things. “
Don’t assume that knowing how to lose is a skill children develop naturally; it is important to teach this deliberately. Empathize, show grace in losing yourself, and work to build frustration tolerance over time, says CMI. Don’t just tell them to get over a loss; give them space to really sit down with the experience and name the emotions it elicits. Validate how difficult the loss can be, but don’t try to help them avoid these feelings altogether.
Red Flag # 4: They really have a hard time hearing “ no ”
If you find that your child is having a really hard time hearing the word “no”, this should be taken care of.
It’s your job, as a parent, to spend time deliberately thinking about your limits and trying to respect them as often as possible.
When your child encounters these limits, as it will inevitably happen, recognize that it is difficult to be told no, but don’t give in.
“You can still be sensitive, kind, and loving – and arm them with the tools to be a flexible person, and not think they’re entitled to anything,” Pressman said. Basically, you teach them to “sit in discomfort,” she explained.
Red Flag # 5: You often wonder if you should be stricter
The latter is less on them and more on you. If you often think that you are really bending the rules more than you’d like – or wish you could be a little more clear with your child about your expectations – maybe it’s time for a change.
It’s not about taking a really old-school, super strict approach to parenting, which research shows doesn’t really work. (Bossy and fear-based parenting doesn’t really give children a chance to develop a sense of empowerment or kindness towards others.)
Instead, it’s about finding ways to strike that delicate balance of being both soft and firm at the same time, which is difficult. It’s a gut check: if you feel like you are giving your child too often, you are really doing them a disservice. Trust that they can learn to handle when things don’t go as planned.
“You can be strict,” Pressman said, “but do it with loving compassion.”