We’ve all been there, walking down the aisle at the local grocery store, when our oh-so-happy, smiling toddler asks for a lollipop, and we tell them no. When our toddler’s face goes red, and they begin yelling at the top of their lungs in the candy aisle, we start feeling frustrated, embarrassed, or annoyed because this is not the first and possibly not the last time. It definitely feels easier to give them the sucker and move on, but the long-term effect might result in an entitled child.
When our babies go to school or spend the night at a friend’s house for a sleepover, we want them to be kind, respectful, and listen. Here are ways to prevent entitled behavior and how to handle the lollipop situation in a way that won’t lead to entitlement.
What is Entitlement?
“The idea that no one should lose or fail or be given a consequence has set up an unrealistic view of what navigating life is all about,” says Dr. Marcia Braden, a licensed psychologist. “Unfortunately, these children have trouble taking responsibility for their actions and tend to blame others for their mistakes and failures because they have been conditioned to believe they are entitled to a perfect life with positive outcomes.”
An example of entitled behavior in older children is after opening all their Christmas presents, they complain about not getting a new iPhone or game console. The reasoning behind the complaints can be anything, but the most common is, “Everyone else in my class has one, so why can’t I?”
“Much of the trend toward entitlement stems from a parent’s desire to create a perfect environment for their child,” Dr. Braden says. “Unfortunately, this promotes an unrealistic view of life in which children are not required to solve a problem because the parent ‘fixes’ everything.”
Saying No and Setting Boundaries
Telling your child “no,” especially when they’re having a meltdown, is key to avoiding entitled children. After a child has settled down after a tantrum, talk with them about their behavior and help them understand why screaming in the candy aisle is not allowed.
“Parents cannot be a child’s friend but need to parent them by directing them to be more self-reliant and eventually self-sufficient adults,” Dr. Braden says.
Additionally, explaining to a child why they can’t have something is essential. The common phrase “because I said so” is acceptable as a last resort. When you tell your child they can’t have something, explain why you are saying no.
Saying “no” to a child goes hand in hand with setting boundaries. Setting clear boundaries with a child makes it easier for them to understand what’s okay and what’s not. For example, a boundary with a child is they cannot have a sucker every time they are at the grocery store. Instead, they can choose a toy or sucker after a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment.
“Kids, as we know, are not known for being patient, but it’s a good idea to teach them to wait for things,” says Katherine Dilzell, a parent educator with the Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. “Wait for a holiday or birthday, and then they could get things they really want. But not necessarily giving in immediately to every little thing they want.”
Another way to prevent entitled behavior is by having a system where they can earn something they want. Giving a child an allowance or rewarding them for something they did well can put in perspective that they aren’t always entitled to special items they want.
Discuss Needs vs. Wants
Another preventative strategy is discussing with your child the difference between what they need and want.
“Even young kids will understand that there are certain things you need to survive, and that could include water, food, clothes, and shelter. Then there are things that you would like to have, but you don’t necessarily need them to survive,” says Dilzell. “One thing parents can do if they’re shopping with their children [is] talk about the things they are getting. Is it a need or a want?”
The line between needs and wants becomes gray when the technology discussion is brought into the equation. A child might want a cellphone and think they are entitled to one because all their friends have it. Yet, a child who walks home from school might need a cell phone in case of an emergency.
“I think it’s up to the parents to decide if that’s something their child is actually ready for,” says Dilzell.
Doing it All
“I think much of the entitlement epidemic began when parents decided they could ‘do it all.’ By that, I mean they attempted to work outside the home, do household chores, support their children in school and sports, and pursue vocational endeavors. They gave without expecting anything back or requiring help from their child,” says Dr. Braden..
By putting some responsibility on a child, it will help them learn about how the real world works. Moreover, it’s important for children to see that parents make mistakes and aren’t perfect. Seeing adults who they look up to make mistakes and fix them will further their understanding that making mistakes is part of life.
The earlier parents begin teaching their children basic manners, the better. For a child to learn and say “please” and “thank you” helps them understand how to respect others and be polite.
Entitlement goes hand in hand with being disrespectful. If a parent makes breakfast, cleans the dishes, and packs a lunch for their child, in return, the child should say “thank you.” By a child not saying this basic phrase, it can come off as entitled because they believe they are entitled to be “served.”