by Debbie Pincus MS LMHC
(These tips are aimed at parents but nannies will find them useful too)
Your 10-year-old son begs you to buy him the newest video game. He cries, “All my friends have it. Why can’t you be like all the other parents? They buy their kids the stuff they want!” Or, your 16-year-old daughter is annoyed that she has to drive the old beat up Chevy to school. “I don’t want to be seen in this piece of junk! Have you seen what kind of cars the other kids drive!?”
If you’re like most parents, your pulse probably rises as you listen to your kids’ demands and witness their attitudes of entitlement. You might even be wondering what went wrong. It's easy to get down on yourself and think, “How did I raise a child who is so self involved? Where did she get the idea that I am on this earth to just serve her needs?!"
The truth is, self-absorption is not easy to live with. Children, particularly teens, deeply believe that they are entitled to the things they want and need – and that you should provide it for them on demand. They rarely recognize that their insistence that they get what they want and their entitled ways impact others. And let's face it, teens and tweens can sometimes be arrogant with their belief that they are special. Many act defiant, demanding and down-right rude if they don't get their way. They will plead, threaten, manipulate and can drive you crazy with the relentlessness of their demands and their righteous belief that they deserve whatever it is that they want.
Don’t panic. You are not to blame.
Believe it or not, your child is not the only one. His or her sense of entitlement is actually a normal and necessary stage of development on their journey toward adulthood. Your job as a parent will be to steer them out of their self-centeredness and toward self control.
Understand that kids do not yet have the power or resources to influence their world, but they believe that getting their desires satisfied is crucial to their survival. Their sense of entitlement helps them “survive” by going after what they think they need. Your child’s job is to demand things and communicate the urgency in obtaining them. There's even something to admire about the passion that your child expresses. Your task is to guide them and help them to find balance between their desires and their self restraint – not an easy thing for us or for them! As frustrating and annoying as it is to live with your adolescent's self absorption, knowing that it's a normal part of their development will make it easier for you to deal with their urgent demands and attitudes without your strong feelings of anger, fear or guilt.
Oops, I Did It Again...
Don't beat yourself up if you give in to your child's demands. Sometimes we are simply worn down by them and we say "okay." Sometimes we say yes because we feel badly for them, or because we feel guilty. Sometimes we give in for reasons we don't even understand in the moment. It's a good idea, therefore, to keep an eye on your own tendencies and behaviors so that you don’t inadvertently contribute to your child's sense of entitlement.
Ask yourself these questions to help you observe your tendencies and habits:
- Do you ever find yourself saying “yes” to what you want to say “no” to? Do you say yes because you want your child to like you, or do you want to avoid conflict?
- Do you ever find yourself living through your kids? Perhaps you buy your daughter that expensive dress because she looks so good or get her the expensive stuff that you wished you had. But do you then label her spoiled?
- Do you put too few demands on your kids – is your hidden message that school work, doing well, achieving, being on top trumps good character?
Our own needs can slip in to our parenting if we don’t keep a careful eye on ourselves. That's why it's important to continually do our own self-inventory. At the same time, we need to help our kids manage their desires and learn self-restraint, limits, manners and respect of their own and others boundaries.
Here are some tips to help you guide them away from self-centeredness while helping kids to maintain their passions in life.
- Listen first: Allow your kids to express their desires and demands and try to just listen. Calm your own inner voice down by remembering that they have a right to their feelings. Don’t be threatened; these are just feelings. Because your kids want something doesn't mean they have to have it. Nor does it mean that they are ungrateful, lousy kids or that you have been lousy parents. Instead of blurting out comments like, “You only think of yourself, “ or “You know we don’t have the money, so why are you asking,” “You are so spoiled." or “What’s wrong with you?” try comments more like :