Picture your precious child in your arms for the first time. So sweet… So little… So innocent. “This child,” you think, “was meant to bring happiness into my life.”
Now fast forward ten years. You have just spent an hour in the kitchen on a new recipe trying to include more nutritious foods into your family’s diet when the same child you gave birth to sits down at the dinner table, looks at the new food and says, “Gross, what is that? I’m not going to eat that. I want Mac ‘n’ Cheese.”
What happened between day one and dinner ten years later? Good question! Somewhere along the line this child developed what is called entitlement – the belief that the world, and those in it, should provide him with the things he wants in life; as well as never ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do. This is a simple definition of a compound problem in American youth. Entitled individuals tend to lack responsibility, struggle in the work place, and give up on relationships and other things that take hard work to make successful. They are consumers, not producers. And the burden of their lifestyle is felt most by their families and their communities. Sadly, many areas of society, including sport heroes, media, and government, encourage and reinforce this belief system.
Is there anything we can do as a parent to help our kids not develop this horrible disease? Is there some sort of immunization for entitlement? The answer is YES! There are things we can do to help our kids avoid developing an attitude of entitlement. The answer lies in helping our kids learn early on that things are required of them in order to get things they want.
A practical example of this principle happens each morning at our home. As my kids wake up and make their way downstairs to get breakfast, they say, “I’m hungry Daddy. Will you get me some cereal?” To which I reply, “Absolutely, just as soon as you get dressed, make your bed, and pick up your room.” Do they whine when I say this? Sometimes. Do I get them breakfast before they do these things? No. How do I handle their whining? By lovingly going brain dead and repeating, “as soon as you’re dressed, your bed is made, and your room is clean (if they ask for help with their bed – I make one end and they make the other).
How does this simple daily exercise help immunize my kids from developing entitlement? It teaches them that they can’t just sit back in life and expect to be served by others. It teaches them that they need to put forth effort in life in order to get their needs met (of course we are talking about kids, not babies).
Shiloh Lundahl, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona. He is the founder of Parent Arizona and Counseling Services and is part of the Arizona Family Institute.
He provides parenting classes using the Love and Logic curriculum, classes for parents of children with ADHD, step-parenting classes, and advanced trainings for foster and adoptive parents. He also provides in-home therapy in Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Chandler, and Tempe, Arizona.