By Janet Lehman, MSW
Why do so many kids act entitled? No matter what they get—clothes, sneakers, toys, gadgets—they seem to want more and don’t understand why they can’t have it immediately.
It can be incredibly frustrating when your child reacts with a bad attitude or acting-out behavior when you say ‘no’ to a request. You think to yourself: “I wasn’t this way when I was a kid. What happened?”
If you find your child isn’t appreciating what you’re giving them or doing for them and are acting increasingly spoiled, it’s important to realize that you can change this pattern at any time.
You can learn how to pause and say no when your child asks for something. You can also learn how to walk away from an argument and not get pulled into your child’s negative behavior.
At first, this is hard to do, but you will get more comfortable with it over time—it just takes practice.
Sometimes we look at our kids, see their behavior, and realize we don’t like it very much. You love your children as people, but you might not like how they’re acting.
But remember, nobody wakes up saying, ‘I’m going to spoil my child today.’ We want to raise grateful children. If you’ve played a part in your child’s sense of entitlement, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t beat yourself up. You can start changing right now, even if you have a demanding teen in the house.
Here are eight things you can do to end your child’s sense of entitlement.
1. Set Clear Expectations With Your Child
Make the statement that things will be different. Let your child know that things will need to change and to expect a different response from mom and dad. Tell your child that they’re going to hear ‘no’ more often.
This is a commitment that you’re making to change your behavior, too. By saying that you’re going to behave differently, you begin to make that change as a parent.
Sometimes these changes are due to the family situation changing—there’s been a divorce, or someone’s lost a job and the financial realities are different. Or maybe you simply realize that you can’t or shouldn’t give your child all that they ask for—that you’re creating a monster.
Be clear with your kids about what’s going to change, and let them know that everyone’s expectations will have to change because of that. In the moment, you can start by saying to your child:
“I don’t like how you responded when I said no to you just now.”
Then walk away, and do not engage in a fight. Understand that things may get worse before they get better. Indeed, your child might not accept hearing you set those limits at first, which is really what you’re doing.
But in a short time, if you stand firm, they will see that you mean business.
2. Don’t Get Pulled Into Fights With Your Child
The most important thing is not to get pulled into the drama and the emotionalism of your child’s response to hearing the word ‘no.’
Be specific about how you’re going to handle the situation with your child. Depending on the age of your kid, you might say:
“If you scream, yell, or curse at me, there’s going to be a consequence for your behavior.”
The bottom line is that if your child acts out when denied what they want, whether their behavior is mild, moderate, or severe, you need to acknowledge the problem and change the way you, as a parent, respond.
Remember that nothing changes if nothing changes. Make no mistake, it’s critical that you do not give in when your child acts out. If you do, it sends the message that they just need to yell and scream to get what they want.
3. Explain Consequences to Your Child Ahead of Time
Let your kids know that they can’t threaten and misbehave to get things. You can say:
“Last time I said no, you threw a tantrum and couldn’t stay at your friend’s house that night because of your behavior. So the next time I say no, what are you going to do? Are you going to act out again, or are you going to handle it better so that you’ll have a better weekend?”
In other words, explain the consequences ahead of time and follow-through consistently if they misbehave.
4. Know That Parenting Is Not a Popularity Contest
Your child is not your friend—and parenting is not a popularity contest. There will often be some anger and disappointment when children aren’t able to get what they want. But acting out behavior shouldn’t determine your response. You need to hold fast.
Try not to get caught up in the moment when your child is begging, pleading, and yelling because you will lose your perspective. You may want to step away from the situation and take some time to consider your response. Don’t get drawn into a debate with your child. Once again, stay firm, say no, and don’t engage in a discussion about it.
5. Saying ‘No’ to Your Child Takes Practice
It will feel weird at first to say ‘no’ or not give in as you have in the past. But trust me, it gets easier over time and starts to feel good and right to hold firm.
The more you can do it, the more clearly you see the situation. What’s more, it helps you gain self-respect, regain your parental authority, and recognize that you’re being a responsible parent.
It’s hard to deny your child something they ‘really, really have to have’ at first. And know that your child will try to pull you back into the old behavior. But it gets easier over time for you and your child.
Believe it or not, kids feel safer and better about themselves when you put these limits in place. When it comes right down to it, your child doesn’t want to be demanding and throw tantrums all the time. That’s not behavior that makes them proud. Eventually, when they can tolerate hearing no, they’re going to feel better about themselves.
This is the truth: entitled kids are unhappy kids. You do your child a favor by saying ‘no.’
6. Use Hypodermic Affection With Your Child
Catch your child being good. When you see your child starting to take the word ‘no’ better, say something. Give them some credit or reinforce it when they’ve thanked you for something or handled a disappointment well.
And use that as a teaching moment, too. You can say:
“Hey, I saw you deal with it really well when we couldn’t go to the movies the other day. Good job.”
In The Total Transformation® child behavior program, we refer to this as hypodermic affection because you’re picking something specific to compliment your child about. It’s a ‘shot’ of love and appreciation.
Realize that empathy is something that develops over time in children. They are not born with the ‘thankful’ or ‘grateful’ gene. We have to teach them and reinforce a sense of gratitude whenever we see it. You can model this with your affection.
7. Teach Your Child to Earn What They Want
With older kids, you can talk with them about other options for getting what they want. They can babysit, pet sit, mow lawns, or get a part-time job. You might decide to give your younger kids a small allowance if that works for your family.
When children can earn things for themselves, it gives them a dose of reality and helps with their own feelings of self-respect. And part of your role as a parent is to teach your child how to work to earn things. In this way, you’re teaching responsibility and preparing your kids for real life.
8. Reinforce Your Decision
Look at it this way, if you’re giving in all the time, you’re not teaching your kids how to be self-sufficient or responsible. It’s worth imagining what a child who grows up this way will be like as an adult. How will they be as a worker or a partner? Will they be able to take care of themselves? Thinking about what you want your child to learn as they grow up—the big picture—will reinforce your decision to do things differently.