While reading a copy of The Me, Me, Me Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World by Amy McCready, I found myself nodding in agreement quite often. It was quite a coincidence that I read this book around the same time my husband and I had a conversation about how to raise our children in the life we have today without completely handicapping them for the life they might have in the future.
This conversation started when he thanked me for doing some tricky things for our business. He was certainly filling my “Capability Tank” with those words! I felt good about his lovely compliment, then suddenly felt a little concerned for my children. I believe the reason I have a strong drive and can be quite resourceful was because I had to—my life experiences taught me how to problem solve.
Growing up just south of the Arctic Circle, (in December, the sun went down before we got out of school!) we had to be pretty savvy at doing things ourselves and managing situations that were quite challenging. I remember feeling the -40 degree temperature in my bones, wanting to collapse into a ball, but having to push myself to keep walking to get where I was going. I look at my children and wonder how they are going to muster up their “get-up-and-go” to face challenges head on.
This is a photo of Pisew Falls near my hometown.
A situation our family is experiencing now also makes me wonder what I might be doing that would inadvertently plant beliefs in my children that their actions are for their own satisfaction, regardless of the effect on others. A few twenty-something-year-old neighbours have been waking us up consistently over the last year. We tried connecting with them, have spoken to them during the day when everyone is calm, and unfortunately confronted them a couple of times at 3am when it didn’t seem they were going to wind things down. None of this has helped them to consider how their drinking and shouting outside in the middle of the night might be affecting all the families living around them. I would be absolutely mortified if I knew my boys were so inconsiderate to others.
McCready defines entitlement as, “The idea that life owes us something… to receive the best of what life has to offer without working for it, to have their whims catered to by the parents and a path paved for success.” I believe that entitlement happens when negative core belief thinking like this develop: If I want something, I need to be loud and demanding until I get it, I deserve to do what I want when I want, It’s okay to be mean to others to get ahead, It’s not my fault, and quit when things get hard. She is right to say, “It ends up that no one’s happy—parents are run ragged, while kids constantly find they need more, more, more!”
In order to curb an entitlement mindset from growing in our children, we can demonstrate that struggles are okay—we can still thrive when things are hard. We can also show them that wants and needs are different: waiting, not having things, being told “no” and persevering are also okay.
Here are four things to consider in order to grow the positive core beliefs that reduce entitlement:
Caving into our children’s demands might be easier on us in the short term, but it will become difficult in the long term. When we give into demands, we teach our children that whining, repeating, and even bullying are useful strategies to getting wants met. A helpful parenting goal is to grow this positive core belief (PCB): It doesn’t hurt to ask: it’s okay if the answer is “no.” One of the parenting tools I love to address demanding is the “asked an answered” tool, which McCready explains in her book. We need to resist caving!
When we do things for our children or are quick to jump in to help, we can actually inadvertently plant a negative core belief (NCB), which challenges the child’s ability to feel capable. This belief might be something like this, I’m not good at this—I’ll just wait for my mom to do it. If this belief is allowed to grow, the child might start believing that it’s best to not try because someone will jump in if things get hard.
The positive belief to grow in this case is: This is hard and I can do it. Also, I can ask for help when I am overwhelmed.
Great problem solving can happen when we have a challenge that we need to resolve. Giving our children opportunities to learn from their mistakes will provide the hands-on type of learning that makes a big positive impact. I know it is hard to watch our children struggle, but allowing them to do that when it is safe is so helpful—we can be a coach in these situations rather than the “fixer.”
The positive beliefs to focus on when problem-solving are: There’s always a way to solve a problem, there are options to consider: which is the best one?
The main reason parents cave, do things for their children or pave the way for fun or happiness is because we are trying to stop big meltdowns. It’s okay if we give our children a limit or say “no,” and this upsets them. Getting used to being disappointed or mad provides our children with “affect management” skills. This is the ability to feel big emotions and know how to stop those feelings from hurting anyone or anything. McCready does address how to coach children through their emotions in her book.
In terms of positive core belief growth, messages to focus on are: It’s okay to feel angry, sad or scared: emotions might feel big, but they are still manageable, I can control myself when I am mad, and I can get help if my emotions feel too big.
I am a big fan of having scripts or phrases ready to use in different parenting scenarios, so we can rely on those to get us through moments when it is hard to feel empathy for our children. Thankfully, McCready provides many phrases for us to use to reduce the chance our child will grow up to have air of entitlement. Have you discovered some phrases that are working well in your family? I'd love to hear them! Please feel free to post those on my Facebook page or in the comments below.