Narcissistic Children and Teens: Does Your Child Act Entitled?

by Janet Lehman, MSW
Narcissistic Children and Teens: Does Your Child Act Entitled?

Why do so many kids act entitled? No matter what they get—clothes, sneakers, toys, gadgets—they seem to want more, and they 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?”

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.

Related: Is your child or teen acting spoiled? How to turn it around.

There are a few reasons why kids are behaving in a more entitled way these days: parents are working harder and longer than before, and are generally more stressed out. When you are exhausted and overwhelmed, it can be easier to give in than to fight with your kids. Along with that, it’s natural to want our kids to have what we didn’t have when we were growing up, and it feels good to give them things when we can. On top of all of that, modern technology has changed the pace of our expectations. Texting, email, and the Internet have made everything move at warp speed. Everything happens with the tap of a finger. Let’s face it, we’re not accustomed to waiting for things anymore—and neither are our kids. It’s a very different world with a different set of expectations about the pace of gratification, and parents don’t always know how to cope.

If you find your child isn’t appreciating what you’re giving him or doing for him and is 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 really hard to do, but over time you will get more comfortable with it—it just takes practice. (More on this coming up.)

Related: How to disconnect from power struggles and fights with your child.

Sometimes we look at our kids and see their behavior and realize we don’t really 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 really 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 8 things you can do to change the climate of entitlement in your home:

Be clear with expectations: Make the statement that things will be different. Let your child know that things will need to change and that he can expect a different response from mom and dad. This is a commitment that you’re making to change your behavior, too. By saying that you’re going to behave differently, you really begin to make that change as a parent. Tell your child that they’re going to hear “no” more often.

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’re simply realizing that you can’t or shouldn’t give your child all that he asks 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—your child might not accept hearing you set those limits at first, which is really what you’re doing. But over time if you stand firm, they will see that you mean business.

Related: How to use consequences and rewards effectively.

Don’t get pulled into a fight: 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 she wants, whether her behavior is mild, moderate or severe, you need to acknowledge the problem and change the way you, as a parent, respond. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Make no mistake, it’s critical that you not give in when your child acts out. Above all, you don’t want her to receive some goody for her misbehavior. That definitely sends the wrong message—that she should yell and scream to get what she wants.

Prepare your child when the situation arises again. Let your kids know that they can’t threaten and misbehave to get things. “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?”

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 just step away from the situation and take some time to consider your response. Don’t get drawn into a debate with your child. You need to stay firm, say no and not engage in a heavy duty discussion about it.

Practice, practice, practice. It will feel weird at first to say “no” or not give in like 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 are able to do it, the more clearly you see the situation. What’s more, it helps you gain self-respect, regain your parental authority and begin to recognize how you’re being a responsible parent. It’s hard to deny your child something she “really, really has to have” at first, but it gets easier over time.

Know that your child will try to pull you back into the old behavior. But believe it or not, kids actually feel safer and better about themselves when you put these limits in place. When it comes right down to it, your child doesn’t really want to be demanding and throw tantrums all the time—that’s not behavior that she’s really proud of. Eventually when she can tolerate hearing no, she’s actually going to feel better about herself.

Related: Why being a Limit Setter is one of three key roles you must play as a parent.

Use hypodermic affection. Catch your child being good. When you see your child starting to take the word “no” better, say something. Give him some credit or reinforce it when he’s thanked you for something or handled a disappointment well. And use that as a teaching moment, too. “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, we refer to this as “hypodermic affection,” because you’re picking something specific to compliment your child about. It’s also important to 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.

Teach your child to earn what he wants: 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 are able to earn things for themselves, it gives them a dose of reality and it 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.

Reinforce your decision: Look at it this way, if you’re giving in all the time, you’re really 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 he grows up—the big picture—will reinforce your decision to do things differently.

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Janet Lehman, MSW has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years and is the co-creator of The Total Transformation Program. She is a social worker who has held a variety of positions during her career, including juvenile probation officer, case manager, therapist and program director for 22 years in traditional residential care and in group homes for difficult children.


This is an informative article and a good reminder for those of us who have already worked on this issue. I only have two issues: 1. I am surprised that a social worker would use the terms mom and dad. You are excluding many, many families with different makeups. 2. It would have been tremendously helpful if you gave examples of possible parent/child interactions. Your article refers us to a video with demonstrations. The first demonstration includes a teen calling his mom a bitch. I have a six yr old and needed some more real life examples. Thank you for writing this article. I appreciate the nudge to get back on track and raise our boy boy to become an altruistic man, not a selfish one.

Comment By : pastasmom

It's nice to know the boundries and limits I have been trying to teach my 5 year old granddaughter are healthy. That is how I raised my chilren.

Comment By : Michele

Good advice

Comment By : thank you

Entitlement seems to get worse as my children become adults. My 21 year old still living at home feels he no longer needs to help with anything around the house, because he as a internship which he work 8 hours a day at. He does not understand we all have jobs, but sill need to cut grass, take out trash, wash clothes and pick up after ourself. He will sit and watch TV as I work my fingers to the bone, and refuse to help. I changes car prevleges to WORK ONLY! But he still just shuts down and does nothing. Any motivational ideas since I still pay for school, provide a car & insurance and feed him and a roof in the summer, I should get some help!

Comment By : The Maid

Somebody forgot to comment on #9 - what if you are divorced and you do the 8 things above .. but the ex spouse gives it all to them anyhow? Does anybody (besides me) have any clue how much damage that does? Kids do not form characters when they get whatever they want ... from the other parent. Very very damaging to the kids. HUGE problem. Kids without character or conscience ... are disasters waiting to find the next bad thing.

Comment By : Frustrated Mom

I agree there should be consequences for inappropriate behavior, but what does one do when there is a battle to have the child "serve" the consequence? i.e. 8 yr old child screams and throws a tantrum when he doesn't get his way; consequence is ten minutes time out...child refuses to sit/stand as directed for time duration..what do u do? what is a suitable "consequence"

Comment By : granma53

very good article.what do you do when saying NO get translated into "you do not love me anymore" bu your 21 year old son who lives at home and does not do his share of chores. i am a single parent dad is not in the picture at all and my son is always comparing with what his friends have and mad that i cannot provide same.

Comment By : yasmeen

Its hard to give the same advice for different situations. Bottom line is we all have to communicate fully with our children and explain our decisions. Hopefully they get the picture eventually. I had divorced parents where one gave us everything including lavish gifts, but no boundaries, and the other tried to set boundaries, but couldnt afford lavish gifts. I eventually grew up, saw things for what they really were, and learned from both sides what to do and NOT to do. Parenting is hard especially when the parents put the kids in the middle of the fighting.

Comment By : vobeid

First of all, Frustrated Mom, I was in your shoes. My newly 18 year old didn't no what NO meant and didn't have consequences for his actions. There was nothing he didn't have and if it was lost or broken his father replaced it! It is EXTREMELY Frustrating! This is why today I have an adult who thinks he can skip work when he feels like it(he works for his father), was expelled from school because he doesn't think he has to listen to anyone. To top it all off I had a child who spent the past year and a half on drugs & alcohol on a daily basis. I don't mean to scare you because it doesn't mean this will happen to your children. But I want to open your eyes because it can happen. I will say one thing though, I have become a stronger person through this all. I am firm with my son and don't feed into his bullying tactics to get his way. I feel he respects me unlike he does his father. I see improvements in him because I have been trying to help him, but also he has a girlfriend to kind of straighten him out. I believe my son will come out of this someday, but he will have to learn some tough lessons about "what life is REALLY about". That makes me sad, but so long as he gets it I will be happy. So I wish you the best of luck, don't cave into them trying to guilt you. Stay firm. They may hate you today, but they will know someday that you cared enough to set boundaries for them. All the best to you!

Comment By : snikib

Frustrated, I totally agree with you. I am not divorced, but should be. My husband will humiliate me and put me down in front of our kids (22,19,15) and has been doing this for years. Have gone to a counselor by myself and with him and have been told that "he needs to back you up". When I say this to him, he tells me "they don't know what they are talking about, their ***holes". When I finally went to a lawyer last year and had him send a letter to him saying that couple counseling was the only way I would try to work things out, we went only to have him say to the male counselor "I take full responsibility for everything that has happened, it's all my fault". The counselor looked at me and said "See, he admits responsibility". I looked at him and said "Yea, and I'm 25, blonde and my measurements are 36-24-36 too. I can say anything I want, doesn't mean it's true. Because when we walk out the door, it's all forgotten." He didn't have an answer for me. I'm just waiting for my youngest to get his drivers license, because my husband won't drive him anywhere he needs to go.

Comment By : Stupid for believing

Reading this article makes me feel normal when I say no to my children. I am often surrounded by other parents who are afraid to say no, this makes me feel like a terrible parent! This article helps me realize that I am preparing my children for the "real world". Thank you.

Comment By : G

Response to Frustrated Mom: You are not alone. I have been fighting the same fight for the past 6 years. Thankfully, my 14 year old daughter has turned the corner and now sees the damage being done by my ex. My 11 year old son is a different story, but my partner and I are slowly starting to make a dent. Even though my ex only sees them for 4 days every 2 weeks, it is still very difficult. We clearly understand where you are coming from.

Comment By : Rachelle

This comment is for "Frustrated Mom". I'm not an expert on this subject and I applaude you for doing your part in being a good parent. Have you talked to a lawyer about any conditions that your ex-husband must be follow in order to have visitation rights? I think you are right in demanding that he respect what you are teaching your children because it is for their benefit and he should have the same interest.

Comment By : sheilaj

Sorry not a comment, but a solicitation for free advice. I was divorced about 8 years ago and had to move to a less enriched part of town about 9 miles from the kids and their friends. My oldest, now 18, moved in with me about 2 years ago after a horrible few months of fights with his mom. About 3 months ago I lost my job but I feel guilty that he's trapped at home, no car, no friends, no job and apparently no ambition to find one. He asks for the car, then abuses the privilege. I’ve spent several hundred on gas because I need to get out to the reemployment office daily to look for work. I’m torn on what to provide for him.

Comment By : Torn Dad

* To “granma 53”: Thank you for asking such a great question. It can be very frustrating when you try to hold your child accountable by giving them a consequence only to have them refuse to do the time out. It may be more effective in this situation to give him a consequence that both holds him accountable and also motivates him to do better next time. For example, after he calms down, instead of giving him a 10 minute time out, you could say something to him like “I understand you were upset earlier when I said no. It’s OK to be upset but it’s not OK to scream and throw a fit like that. So, when you show me you can behave appropriately for 1 hour, then you can have your TV privilege back.” This is what we refer to as a task-oriented consequence. It gives your child the opportunity to earn a privilege back by completing a task, in this case, practicing the appropriate behavior. It also helps to halt the power struggle of trying to make him stay in time out. Here is a great article by James Lehman about giving effective consequences: Kids Who Ignore Consequences: 10 Ways to Make Them Stick. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this challenge. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

* To “Frustrated Mom”: We appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us. It’s understandable for you to be concerned about your children getting different messages about what’s acceptable from other places. Our children can be influenced by many outside sources. The best we can do as parents is to provide them opportunities to learn how to make good choices regardless of those influences. You may not be able to control what goes on in your ex-spouse's household. But, you do have complete control over how you structure your household. James Lehman makes some excellent suggestions on how to address situations such as yours in his article The Disneyland Daddy. It will be helpful to establish what we call a “culture of accountability” within your house as well. By this we mean establishing clear rules and expectations for acceptable behavior and a menu of rewards and consequences around them. The article How to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Home can give you some ideas on how to do this. Keep in mind, even if your ex-husband does purchase toys, electronics and other types of privileges for your children, you can still decide how and when they can earn access to them within your house. Here is one last article I think may be helpful to you: The Do's and Don'ts of Divorce for Parents. I hope this has been useful. Good luck as you continue to work through this challenging situation. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

* To “The Maid”: Thank you for taking the time to contribute to our website. I can understand your frustration. It can be irritating when you provide so much for your child and he seems unwilling to give anything back. It appears you do have some tools to help motivate your son, like the car for instance. What may be most helpful in your situation would be to set up what James Lehman calls a living agreement. In his article, Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part III: Is It Ever Too Late to Set up a Living Agreement? James details how to work with your son to establish clear limits and expectations and determine what consequences will be enforced should those limits not be met. Establishing clear limits and expectations will help to shift the responsibility back on to your son. It will also help to show him the things you currently provide for him are privileges and he can continue to have access to those privileges by following the rules of the house. You may also want to refer to the other two articles in the series, Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part I and Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part II: In Response to Questions about Older Children Living at Home. We wish you and your family the best as you continue to address this issue. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

* To “yasmeen”: Thank you for taking the time to post your comment. You ask a great question. It can be stressful when you feel you are not providing everything your child wants. Keep in mind, your son is an adult and, as the parent of an adult child, what you provide for him is really up to you. We would suggest not personalizing his behavior when he says telling him no means you don’t love him. In truth, it’s not a really question of how much you love him. The pushback that you’re getting in response to setting limits is normal. Your son will try to get you to go back to the way that you were responding by trying to make it a personal issue between the two of you. Instead, maybe you could help him come up with a plan for how he could earn the money to buy whatever it is he wants. Adult children can present a different set of problems than younger children do. There is a great three part article that addresses some of the issues faced by parents with adult children living at home. You can read them by clicking on the following links: Failure to Launch, Part 1: Why So Many Adult Kids Still Live with Their Parents, Failure to Launch, Part 2: How Adult Children Work the "Parent System" & Failure to Launch, Part 3: Six Steps to Help Your Adult Child Move Out. We wish you and your family the best as you continue to address this situation. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

* To “Torn Dad”: Thank you for taking the time to post such a great question. As parents, it’s easy for us to feel guilty when we don’t believe we are doing enough for our child. I can identify with the uncertainty of how much you should be providing for your son. Your son is lucky to have you to help him out as much as you have. Ultimately what you provide for your son is up to and what you are able to do. Setting some limits on what you’re providing is a great way to role model problem-solving skills for your son. From your comment, it seems like you give him the opportunity to use the car but he takes advantage of the privilege. It’s understandable he would lose access to the car if he’s not able to be responsible with it. It’s also important to realize living with an adult child can be very different from living with a younger child. The situation can present a different set of problems. You might find it useful to read the adult child articles by Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner. You can access those by clicking on the following links: Failure to Launch, Part 1: Why So Many Adult Kids Still Live with Their Parents, Failure to Launch, Part 2: How Adult Children Work the "Parent System" & Failure to Launch, Part 3: Six Steps to Help Your Adult Child Move Out. We wish you and your family the best as you move forward. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

I have a 19 year old son who is very intelligent and pushes the buttons of myself and my wife. When he was younger he was always happy before he reached the age of 14 years old. He had a lot more friends then he does now and was always willing to help us. He was accepted to a great college but had to withdraw because he said he was overwhelmed.He does not have a job but loves to work on computers and sleeps and is avoiding doing things to help himself. He seemed to be getting a little better, but when his girlfriend broke up with him, it was like his whole world fell apart.My son has a teriffic heart and really is a good kid. He doesnt realize that he is throwing everything away and now is telling us to just leave him alone and will not talk to us. He does not drink or take drugs and we do not know what else to do. We bring him to therapists and seems that we are getting nowhere. Iam tired of people telling me he is depressed. Thats an easy answer. what do I do? concerned dad.

Comment By : aulino 23

UPDATE from Frustrated Mom: Well the damage is done. Son is now in a boarding school for Troubled Teens in another state. We had no choice. The county received two filings from his pediatrician and his therapist that his anger and propensity for violent acting out was dangerous - so a decision had to be made to move him out of the home and into residential treatment. Son is opposed to being there (naturally) and is very vocal about counting down the days until next May when he turns 18 .. and I believe he means it. At least he is clean and sober for now .. but that old expression 'dry drunk' would be the apt one to use. I tried. It is now out of my hands. Son refuses to write or talk to either of us even though it is required in the therapy portion. I totally understand that even though his biological body clock says he is 17 .. he is not ready to accept the facts of who he is and he is not ready to do the work so .. he is what he is, a child still 'stuck' at age 8 when his parents (us) got divorced. It is just that. I have to release my son to The Universe or Whomever because I don't have a choice. He will check himself out at 18 and go wherever he goes. Thank you all for your comments. Much appreciated.

Comment By : Frustrated Mom

* To “aulino 23”: We appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us. It can be upsetting when your adult child makes choices you know are not in his best interest. It sounds like your son has had many different opportunities he hasn’t taken advantage of. Even though it may feel like these choices are going to determine his future, that isn’t necessarily so. Instead of thinking about what this may mean for him and his future, focus on what is happening now. It’s good you have sought out local supports for him in the form of a therapist, especially if he is dealing with depression. It might be beneficial to continue encouraging him to go if possible. As for what you can do, we would suggest focusing on what you can control, namely, your responses and how you hold him accountable for the choices he makes. There is an excellent article series by Debbie Pincus in which she addresses ways to deal with some of the challenges parents face when adult children live at home. You can find Part 1 and Part 2 by clicking on these links: Adult Children Living at Home? How to Manage without Going Crazy & Adult Children Living at Home? Part II: 9 Rules to Help You Maintain Sanity. As Debbie outlines in the article, the long term goal is for your son to live independently; the first step towards that goal is coming up with a plan for how that is going to happen. Keep in mind, it’s a step by step process that may take a little time to fully accomplish. We wish you and your family luck as you continue to help your son address these challenges. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

Hi Janet...wanted to take a moment to say how wonderful both you and James have been and how your work has assisted my family over the years. We have the Total Transformation also. I know Jim has passed..and it surprised me when I learned this. As a mom and a wife, I wanted to reach to you and simply let you know you do amazing work for so many people, and you are loved and appreciated. Thank you. Very sincerely from the heart :)

Comment By : denab

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