Challenge False Sense of Entitlement in Kids

By James Lehman, MSW / empoweringparents.com

If you give in to every little want and need your child expresses, you create and nurture a false sense of entitlement, which can lead to significant problems later on.

Almost as soon as your child begins to talk, you’ll start to hear him ask for things. For example, when an infant cries, he’s asking to be fed or to be made more comfortable. By the time he reaches the age of four or five, his constant refrain becomes: “Can I have this, Mom? Can I have that?”

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The constant requests for new toys or candy and an “I want it now” attitude may follow you every time you go to the store. Parents want to give to their kids for many reasons. It’s partly instinctual—back in the Stone Age, “giving to your child” might have meant providing food, shelter, and protection. Those urges are still there.

Media and Society Encourage Entitlement in Kids

I think it’s important to keep in mind that parents and kids get some powerful messages in our society. One of the most prevalent is, “The more you give your child, the better parent you are.”

Children are also led to believe they’re entitled to receive. Commercials, movies, social media, and their friends at school all tell kids, “This is the new thing. This is what everybody’s getting. If you don’t have it, you won’t be cool.”

So it’s easy for you as a parent to feel obligated to give to your child—and pretty soon, your child will grow to expect it. This feeling of obligation can lead to parents giving much more than their kids need—and sometimes, more than their family can afford.

Children also get a false sense of entitlement by being overly praised for things and rewarded for tasks that they should be doing as a matter of course. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding achievement and excellence, but it becomes a problem when you reward mediocre efforts.

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I’ve also worked with many parents who have the following fantasy: they imagine their child talking to their friends, saying, “My parents are great. They got me these new sneakers.” Or, “My dad’s the best—he bought me this bike.”

This thought often makes parents feel proud and good about themselves, and it motivates them to spend more than is reasonable or necessary. There are those parents who want to be their child’s friend—and consequently, they will often buy their child things because they’re afraid they’ll lose their friendship.

The truth is, your child probably isn’t saying those things. Some do, but most don’t. The teen brain is self-centered, and a true sense of appreciation may not come until later in adulthood. That’s okay. It’s not a lack of appreciation that is the problem; rather, it’s a false sense of entitlement that is the problem.

A False Sense of Entitlement Is the Problem

If a child has a false sense of entitlement, then by the time he reaches adulthood, he firmly believes that his parents owe him whatever he wants. So the combination of instinct, social pressure, and the need to be liked by their kids can make parents overindulge their children.

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Let me be clear: I’m not saying it’s terrible to give to your children. But I do believe the way you give to them can either help them develop a sense of ownership by earning things or nurture a sense of false entitlement because they’re getting what they want when they want it.

And when kids grow up with a false sense of entitlement, you’ll see them thinking they’re entitled to expensive toys and electronic gadgets without having to earn them. They will do poorly in school and still want that car when they turn 18—and expect to get it. They’ll even tell their parents there’s something wrong with them if they don’t give them what they want, regardless of their family’s financial situation.

The attitude of a child with a false sense of entitlement is, “I am, therefore, give to me.”

I believe it’s critical to challenge this attitude. Indeed, once your child grows up and goes out into the real world, he will have to work for what he wants, just like everyone else. That’s why, as a parent, it’s important that you teach your child the value of hard work and earning things. He needs to experience the connection between making an effort and achieving success.

Conversely, when things are handed to your child, the message he’s getting is, “You don’t need to do anything—everything will be given to you in life just because you’re you.”

If you’re ready to challenge your child’s false sense of entitlement, I recommend the following techniques.

Ask Yourself, “What Do I Want My Child To Learn?”

Whenever you want to get a message across to your children, I think it’s essential to think through what you want to teach them. Ask yourself, “What do I want my children to learn about money and work to achieve success in life?” And then come up with a procedure that will teach them about finances.

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Some concepts which I think are important to teach from a young age are:

  • Money doesn’t come easily.
  • People work hard to earn money; it’s part of life.
  • If you want something, you need to work to earn it.
  • You are not entitled to things you haven’t earned.

Break these concepts down for your child. You can say:

“You can’t make a video game yourself. But when you’re old enough, you can work at Wendy’s for a week and get enough money to buy a video game somebody else made.”

You can take it one step further by asking:

“And why did they make that video game? So they could earn enough money to eat at Wendy’s.”

Teach your child to start connecting the dots. Think about what you want your child to learn. Think about what you want him to take away from the conversation because that is going to set the tone for the way he thinks about what he earns—and what you give him—from now on.

Set Some Limits on Giving to Your Kids

I think it’s important to put limits on what you give your children. Don’t feel as if you need to provide them with every little thing they ask for, even if “all the other kids have one.”

I think it’s also a good idea to talk to your kids and let them know that you don’t have an infinite supply of money at your fingertips. Tell them from an early age that parents work to make money to support the family. Try to explain that you trade your time for money to take care of the household.

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