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. (More on this below.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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Janet Lehman, MSW, has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years. A veteran social worker, she specializes in child behavior issues — ranging from anger management and oppositional defiance to more serious criminal behavior in teens. She is co-creator of The Total Transformation® Program, The Complete Guide To Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™.
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We adopted two boys from Russia at age 4 in 2005. Both have been diagnosed by a clinical psychologist with Reactive Attachment Disorder. One also has Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Narcissism. The latter has displayed narcissistic characteristics since we adopted him, though we didn't know his actual condition for a long time. His caregivers in the orphanage described narcissistic behaviors during his time there, but we thought it was just a quirk of his childish personality.
The world has always revolved around this boy, or so he believes, and he has to be in control of everything. From day one he was defiant, disrespectful toward women, had no empathy for anyone, and constantly made our family late because he was more concerned about his appearance than being on time or inconveniencing us. He repeatedly stole our debit card and withdrew a total of $21K before we figured out what was really happening. He believed he was justified in the theft because we expected him to follow rules and wouldn't give him money for whatever he wanted. He even enlisted his brother's help in this, something our other son would not have done on his own.
He firmly believes that he is always right, and everyone else is just "stupid" or "assuming" or "opinionated."
We have always had rules and delivered consequences -- sometimes to the point of the boys having to leave our house for a few days (after they turned 18) -- for disobedience or gross disrespect. While their friends were getting away with all kinds of misbehaviors and being lavished with luxuries, our boys were made to suffer consequences for their wrong actions and work for what they wanted. None of this changed our son's narcissism. Telling families that a true narcissist is "created" by parents' lenient or spoiling parenting is not only false, but hurtful. We are not the cause of a "born-in" mental disorder. We and our families -- and anyone a narcissist becomes close to -- are not the cause, but the victims of it.
My son just came back home after moving out on his 18th birthday 10 months ago. He surfed couches and mooched off friends, not having a job of his own or a way to get to any work he might find after messing up his brief employment at a C-store. He now wants all the benefits of living at home: cell phone, transportation, free food, college tuition,
etc. He learned some hard life lessons during those prodigal months, and is treating us somewhat better as a result (he is working hard for our family business and has begun to pay back what he stole), but he still believes he is right in all things and should never have to justify his actions. Just yesterday he told me he didn't have to listen to me about how to do things, because there isn't anything that I can do better than him. The fact that I am 62 and have a lifetime of experience under my belt -- including 6 years of military service -- doesn't register with him. He hasn't really changed the way he feels about others: his superiority complex is alive and well.
I dated a boy like this for 4 years in high school and college, and I know firsthand how destructive a narcissistic man can be to a woman's self-esteem. I was lucky enough to be strong enough to fight back, and that he finally dumped me (for cutting my hair!) before we could talk about marriage. I know now that God was saving me for my wonderful husband (of 30 years), and preparing me for the son we would adopt many years later.
If I could ask a question here, it would be this: should I try to warn his girlfriends about him, and how they will be treated once their novelty wears off? I still love my son, but I don't want him to hurt and discard a string of unsuspecting and vulnerable young girls. He is still dating high school girls after graduating last spring, because they are closer to his emotional maturity level than girls his own age. As much as it hurts me to say this, I believe it would be better for him to be single and alone than to ruin other lives. Your thoughts?
at my wits end
I am sorry to hear your children are choosing to limit their
interactions with you. As you can see from reading the comments under the
articles Living with a Broken Heart: Are You Estranged from Your Child? & Estranged from Your Adult Child? 5 Things You Can Do, many parents are facing similar estrangement from their adult children, so, you’re not alone. It may be helpful
to find a counselor or support group to help you deal with the pain this
situations is causing you. The 211 Helpline would be able to give you
information on services and supports in your area. You can reach the Helpline
24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by visiting them online at http://www.211.org/. Good luck to you moving forward. Take
You ask a great question. The comments posted to our site
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the post is of an overtly religious or political nature. I
hope this helps to answer your question. Take care.
It can be quite stressful when the interactions between
divorced parents tend to be antagonistic and challenging. I am sorry you are
having to experience such turmoil. While we don’t have programs that are
specific to divorced situations, this is one of the areas covered in our program called Two Parents, One Plan. We also have several articles that focus on parenting
after divorce; one in particular you may find helpful is https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/parenting-after-divorce-9-ways-to-parent-on-your-own-terms/. The most important thing
to remember is you really can only control the culture of accountability
that’s developed in your home. You’re probably not going to have much effect on
how your ex husband parents or the rules he chooses to have his home. Hang in
there. I know this can be a very tough situation. Good luck to you and your
children moving forward. Take care.
My daughter gets so angry with me sometimes I simply can't walk away. Last night she followed me everywhere, shouting as loud as she could close up, knowing that this could potentially damage my ears and destroy my career (I am a musician). I couldn't leave the house because she stood in front of the door barring my way and tried to grab my phone every time I tried to call a friend for support. I was basically standing with fingers in my ears, unable to do anything, being bullied by a full grown 16yr old in my own home for laying down rules about the way she conducts herself with her boyfriend in the house. How do you walk away from that? She is brilliantly clever, has just achieved spectacular results in public exams and won 3 school prizes plus an award for 6th form (as we call the last 2 years of school in the UK) and has a very nice boyfriend. Of course, none of this will give her long term success in adult life on its own. I am trying to encourage her to go and seek help in our relationship together so that we can learn to communicate better but I cannot physically force her to go.
I am a single, working mother and it is so hard to maintain any sort of authority without a male figure in the home. She is physically stronger than me and knows it. She was away for 2 weeks this summer and I was alone with my 2 14yr olds. It was heaven. We had such a good time, not doing anything special, just getting on with our lives with relative peace and quite. They have told me they never want to go on holiday with their older sister again because it really upsets them to see the way she treats me.
Thanks for listening.
Char1ie Hi I am Sacha. I understand why you feel you are not living but existing. It is because if you are emotionally connected to your son there is an energy (emotional) exchange happening. You will feel some of his emotions and he will feel some of your emotions. It is a very unfair exchange, because his emotions are darker emotions then your emotions. Narcissists are not living, they are only existing. That is why they seek out people so that they can give their darker emotions to them in exchange for lighter ones from them. That is why when he is away it can be a bliss as long as you don't think of him and worry about him. Every time you meet someone and talk to someone energy exchange happening all the time. That is why some people can make you feel bad and others make you feel good. It all depends what kind of energy they carry with them. I hope this helps.
Having a child who corners you or bullies you when you try to
disengage can make walking away difficult. As counter-intuitive as this may
seem, the fact that your daughter continued trying to re-engage you in the
power struggle actually points to how effective disconnecting is. It’s not
uncommon for a child to follow you when you try to leave a power struggle.
Eventually, when she realizes the behavior isn’t going to get her anywhere, it
should die of neglect. Responding to the behavior in the moment serves only to
feed into it and give it more power. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore the
behavior completely. After things have calmed down, you can go back and http://www.empoweringparents.com/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior.php with your daughter what she can do differently the next time she
disagrees with the limits you set. You can also hold her accountable for her
behavior through a task-oriented consequence. What this might look like in your
situation is limiting her use of cell phone or other privilege until she can go
for 24 hours without being verbally disrespectful or physically aggressive to
you. Something to keep in mind is your daughter doesn’t have to like the limits
you put in place, she just needs to follow them. I hope you are taking time to
take care of yourself. Self-care is an often overlooked part of being an
effective parent. Taking time to doing something good for yourself, such as
meeting with a friend for coffee, going for a walk or doing another activity
you enjoy, can go a long way towards recharging your batteries. We wish you the
best of luck moving forward. Be sure to check back and let us know how things
are going. Take care.