Untangling Entitled Kids

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With all that your child has, she should be happier, right? Not always. For parents who give and do everything for their kids, a new era of family balance is in order.

Catherine Deak doesn’t feel like buying her child Christmas presents this year.

“It’s not because I don’t like Christmas,” the Green Hills mom says. “It’s because my child has so much, already.”

Deak isn’t alone. The idea of over-indulged kids is everywhere today, and the lines between the “haves” and the “have nots” are clearly marked. But children aren’t born greedy and bored … it’s something that happens to them, often brought about by parents simply trying to do what they think is best.

“As parents, we want to give our children what we think will make them happy,” says Kathy Hoover-Dempsey, associate professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt Peabody College. “Sometimes buying them something seems to be the easiest way to do that,” she says, “whether or not your child really needs anything.”

If you feel like your children have too much and are lacking in the gratitude department, here are simple strategies for balancing out your family during the holidays and beyond.


Here’s a look at old methods versus new methods:

OLD: YOU Keep Them Happy
If you drop everything to help your kids avoid unhappiness, you are actually entitling them. This results in kids developing an expectation out of you every time something’s wrong.

NEW: 10 Minutes a Day
Spend at least 10 minutes a day — individually — with each of your kids, doing whatever they want to do. Commit to it on a daily basis, and watch entitled behaviors melt away.

OLD: YOU Enable them
Enabling starts small, but it gets out of control if you continually pick up the messy playroom, make their beds, fix multiple meals for dinner or continually gather dirty clothes from rooms because it’s easier than dealing with complaints.

NEW: Transfer Power
Say to your kids, “You’re growing up, and you’re old enough to put your dirty clothes in the laundry room. I do laundry on Mondays and Fridays, but if you need something in between that time, then you are welcome to wash it yourself.”

OLD: YOU Rescue Them
Helicopter much? Your son’s old enough to remember his soccer cleats, but he never seems to, and why should he? He can rely on your personal delivery service!

NEW: Transfer More Power
If your child repeatedly forgets things and relies on you to pick up the pieces, call a truce. Have him come up with solutions for helping himself to remember.

OLD: YOU Indulge Them
How many times have you said “no” to your child and then given in? If your child has demanded that he be allowed to play “M” games on X-box because “ALL of my friends do!” and you cave in, then you’re indulging him. Once a kid learns how to get around you, you’re done for.

NEW: Don’t Fudge the Rules
Make your house rules crystal clear and follow through on enforcing them. At the same time, give your child the chance to make decisions on his own in other areas. When a kid has some control over his own life, he’s less likely to get upset when you enforce your rules.

Source: The Me, Me, Me Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World by Amy McCready (Tarcher; 2015).


Stick to Your Guns
If you leave no room for reinterpretation, you save yourself arguing later. Example: “You can have one cookie, but don’t ask me for a second one. This is it.”

Don’t Give in to begging
Once you do, you teach your child that begging works.

Chores Before Fun
You don’t do your child any favors by being a softy. Studies show that being strict on chores and responsibilities helps kids develop the ability to cope with frustration. Even toddlers can do simple chores around the house, like putting away play things and cleaning up messes he makes.

Disappointment’s OK
You can’t always get what you want. Learning to accept disappointment will give your child important coping skills to deal with emotional stress later in life.

Let Them Work for It
Experts believe that kids become spoiled when things come too easily, encouraging them to take those things for granted. If your child wants a new toy, set up a reward system for good behavior and let him earn it bit by bit.

Source: Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child by Robert J. Mackenzie (Harmonty; 2013)

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.

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