Why Is My Child Ungrateful? Selfish Kids and Holiday Entitlement

Posted December 8, 2015 by

Why Is My Child Ungrateful? Selfish Kids and Holiday Entitlement

Would you say your child is selfless?

If you’re like most of the parents we talk to, your answer is probably “no.” You might even have a good chuckle at the irony. But deep down, it bothers you when your child begs for a $750 phone, or a $500 tablet. Many adults aren’t fortunate to own such luxury items.

You didn’t raise your child to be so self-involved. Why can’t they be grateful for what they have, instead of wanting the next best thing?

Parents are often confused by kids’ inherent sense of entitlement. As adults, we’re busy working for what we have, while children believe they deserve privileges and expensive gifts. As a result, parents worry their child will grow up to be self-absorbed, arrogant or manipulative.

The holiday season only adds to entitlement concerns – kids want the latest, greatest gadget and we want to promote generosity and love. If you feel like your child doesn’t embody the “True Spirit of Christmas,” you’re not alone – and neither is your child.

Entitlement is a normal stage of child development – it’s natural to want nice things! The most effective way to encourage your child to be more grateful is to role-model the behavior you want to see.

If your family values are about giving back to your community, try creating opportunities to do that together. You could buy a gift for a family in need, deliver a Meal on Wheels, or volunteer at a local animal shelter.

If volunteering as a family won’t work for you, find alternative ways to give back. You can still show your child what it means to appreciative or thoughtful of others.

Try and stay away from giving lectures about the value of family, generosity, etc. Kids usually tune these out. Instead of getting into all the reasons why the latest iPhone isn’t a reasonable gift, set limits on what you are able to give. Refocus your attention on modeling the behavior you’re hoping to see this season.

Learn more tips for guiding your child away from self-centeredness in Demanding Children and Teens: Is Entitlement Just a Stage?

Take care,

Rebecca W., Empowering Parents Coach
Learn more about 1-on-1 Coaching

“As frustrating and annoying as it is to live with your adolescent’s self absorption, knowing that it’s a normal part of their development will make it easier for you to deal with their urgent demands and attitudes without your strong feelings of anger, fear or guilt.” – Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC, creator of The Calm Parent AM & PM


Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

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  1. ReyJenn (Edit) Report

    I would like to share that our family chose to observe and acknowledge Christmas, however, we do not exchange any gifts other than being together as a family. The first few years we did this was out of necessity for financial reasons due to life changing circumstances. We struggled with it. It was hard to see disappointment on the kids faces and the overwhelming guilt and hurt for them. So to stop the expectation of “mom and dad are just telling us we aren’t ‘getting’ Christmas to surprise us more on Christmas day…” We resolved to not owning, not buying, and not decorating for Christmas. It is now a day for us to reflect upon our accomplishments and be grateful for what we do have… Each other.

  2. Smashly2004 (Edit) Report

    My 7 year old daughter sometimes act ungrateful but shes far from selfish. example she just lost her 3rd tooth and she got 3 dollars from the tooth fairy well she took her money to school the next day and spent all her money on gifts for her mommy. Then she asked dad for .60 to buy something else from the store but for her self. lol

  3. Mshimshock (Edit) Report

    I have experienced some of the same behaviors, however there is hope. My son is 13, and this is the first year he has spent his own money for Christmas gifts for his 3 cousins and my husband and myself. He also donated money to Wounded Warriors. I am very proud of him. He still has his moments, many of them.

  4. UrbanMom (Edit) Report

    Something I did:  I started collecting kids’ books for our city’s underserved schools.  It has evolved into http://www.booksfirstchicago.org  Not only does it help our son be aware of kids less fortunate than he, it has helped a lot of my friends’ kids to have the same realization. So, I would say also involve your child in something that doesn’t involve lecturing but does involve helping other kids.

  5. amy (Edit) Report

    my friend’s son is 22 and feels the world “owes” him everything.  He just sits around playing video games all day/night.  Won’t get a job. Demands his cigs etc.  Won’t fix himself anything to eat. Nor even do his own laundry or take the dogs out.  He also breaks stuff if you won’t comply soon enough or run home to cater to him.

    • Susan (Edit) Report

      He behaves that way because his mother allows it. She needs to set rules for his behavior and boundaries and consequences for breaking rules. So for example mom needs to tell him he does his own chores, laundry she will not buy him cigs, and he has 2 months to get a job or he’s out. She also needs to tell him if he breaks things she will file charges for property destruction. She is rewarding all of his horrible behavior by giving in to his demands and letting him live there for free with no job. A kid who acts like that has usually been spoiled his whole life and never been disciplined or followed through on setting limits and consequences. Some parents think this is love but love is setting limits and boundaries and preparing a child to be an adult and take care of themselves. If you let your kid run the show and control you, you will have a kid who fails at jobs and relationships and never learns to become self sufficient. I worked with a dad whose son used bullying, property destruction, and intimidation/abuse to get what he wanted and run the household. His dad was afraid of him so he wouldn’t follow through on consequences. I told dad to tell his son he would call the police if he destroyed property or assaulted him and that put a stop to that behavior.
      Susan Maxfield, LMFT

  6. AzarmeenJamasji (Edit) Report

    Thank you for pointing out that this sense of entitlement is not unusual. I love the suggestions below. I have been trying to circumvent the consumer culture by taking the kids on a trip at Christmas and making that and the memories we share their gift. I get push back from in-laws but I find that this is a way to give them a gift that is meaningful, educational and not evanescent.

  7. golem003 (Edit) Report

    Our family followed many of the above suggestions for years. We collected food and gifts for families in need, particularly over the holidays.  We modeled please and thank you and expressed appreciation for even the most small kindnesses given to us.  For a long time, we thought it was having no impact on our son.  Now, at 17, he has reached a new level in his development and this wonderfully appreciative kid has appeared out of “nowhere.”  He is generous with others, thanks us for any help we give him, and even pauses to give us hugs on a regular basis.  In our case, it really was a developmental stage he needed to get through, so hang in there!

  8. Gloria Report

    my son has been exceptional up to now that he is 12. He is starting to display anger and im not sure if its normal or should I look for counselling?

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      You ask a great question. It’s not unusual for kids to
      exhibit more anger when they hit puberty. With that said, if you have concerns
      your son’s anger may be excessive, you might consider making an appointment
      with his doctor or primary care provider. His doctor would be able to rule out any underlying issues that
      may be having an adverse affect on his mood and behavior. We appreciate you
      writing in and wish you the best of luck moving forward. Take care.

    • golem003 (Edit) Report

      latina74 Our son was also exceptional until around 7th or 8th grade.  I think some anger is normal at that age, but for him, the slamming doors turned into throwing things and punching walls.  We did pursue counseling and he was eventually diagnosed with ADD.  It was a challenge to get the diagnosis because the teachers saw he did well on the standardized tests and he did not lash out at school.  They thought he just wasn’t motivated.  Much of his anger came from the fact his mind was racing all the time and it was exhausting for him to try and focus 8 plus hours a day.  Once we had the diagnosis, we were able to find the right ADD medication for him.  If his anger seems to be more than teenage rebellion, I would recommend finding a good psychologist, one who won’t just rely on teacher feedback, but who will also run diagnostic tests on him.

  9. Connie Report

    While, mentoring community service is certainly a good suggestion, I would welcome more specific information in discussion “entitlement perception” with my children.  I find them forgetting to say thank you for even the small things, such as driving them to a friend’s house.  Our family comes from very humble roots and both parents worked extremely hard to get where we are now.  However, our children do not.  What are more specific daily examples to increase an attitude of gratitude that work?

    • rwolfenden Report

      I speak with a
      lot of parents who are concerned about the sense of entitlement that many kids
      have in our current culture, so you’re certainly not alone in feeling this
      way.  As mentioned in the blog above, it’s pretty common for kids to be
      self-centered and not recognize all that they have.  It’s also normal for
      kids to lack appreciation for all that parents do for them.  They might
      take it for granted, and not realize that they should be grateful, instead
      thinking, “That’s just what parents are supposed to do.”  That’s not to
      say that you are powerless to do anything about it, however.  Some tips
      that I encourage families to use is to have a child earn the things s/he wants,
      and to clearly communicate your expectations for their behavior.  For
      example, although you might consider it to be common courtesy to say “thank
      you” when someone gives you a ride, it might not come automatically to your
      kids.  Milissa Harding has more ideas and examples in her blog http://www.empoweringparents.com/blog/parenting-styles-and-roles/children-and-gratitude-a-powerful-combination/.  Please let us know if you have
      any additional questions; take care.

      • Nnnnn (Edit) Report

        I don’t think it’s just today’s culture that creates the selfishness/sense of entitlement. I was a kid in the 1980s and I was totally selfish and ungrateful. I eventually grew up and changed – round about the same time that I had to earn my own money and pay my own bills. So I don’t think we should worry too much. Unless the selfishness continues well into their 20s. I agree with the person above about kids’ failure to say thank you for small things though. It drives me mad when my children demand a specific type of food or something and then if I go to all the trouble of making it they don’t even acknowledge my efforts!

  10. TravelingMama (Edit) Report

    Since my children were very young Chrismas and other gift giving festivities have been explained as a time to reflect on our privilege to have choices and have our basic needs met. At first I would only buy them things they needed, now we continue to replenish things they need and also add to our family library in their name. In addition they are allowed to ask for a couple of things with a predetermined monetary value. As parents we then decide what is an age appropriate gift to expect.

  11. Pammyjoe007 (Edit) Report

    Thank you for reminding me that we’re not alone in with these issues. The guilt of being a single mom with an adopted child – now teenager, can be quite unnerving. We live with a “selfie” generation! But I find my hope in Christ first and get extra priceless encouragement from sources like this. I’m trying to help my daughter to find simple ways to earn her own money for the “perks” to extend beyond what I can give her. It’s a challenge to teach patience in sowing what we have – giving of our time and resources to those in need- to reap more later. I should have started this a long time ago!

  12. Ximena Ames Nugent (Edit) Report

    Suggestion:  I believe we open the door to demands with this simple questions:  What do you want for Christmas?  That needs to be re-directed.  It’s better to ask a child to give you two or three options of what they want for Christmas.  The child needs to know, from early on, that you,  as the parent, will make the final decision.  Make the wait fun!  See if they can guess which of the presents they have asked for will be the ones they will get.  

    And it’s a terrific idea to get back to the religious significance of this holiday by doing for others.   Love your neighbor, after all, is part of all spiritual teachings.

  13. skw (Edit) Report

    Our children know so many kids who are given those $750 phones and $500 tablets — we watch parents unknowingly create, and help encourage that sense of entitlement.  This post has wonderful suggestions, but may I say the first step is to only spend a reasonable and limited amount on each of your children for Christmas.  I think any child who has hundreds of dollars spent on them for Christmas (birthdays, etc. too) will struggle with reasonable expectations, and will have a sense of entitlement.  When our children wanted larger items, like phones and iPods (although nowhere near $500) we would contribute an amount of Christmas money towards the item, but then they had to work and do chores to earn the extra to make up the difference and be able to purchase the item themselves.  This was in middle school, even before they were old enough to have jobs.  I have seen how not spending more and showering our children with what they want has truly helped them not only to avoid having a sense of entitlement, but it has helped them as they mature and learn the value of work.  They appreciate what they have because of it.

  14. cburg1995 (Edit) Report

    Agreed, we were going to buy my 19yo a nice flat screen smart TV, for when she goes to college and gets her own place. But instead she tells me she’d rather have a 250.oo pair of boots. I think that’s the problem with the kids is they live in the here and now and don’t think about 2 weeks down the road. So I’m torn if I should get her the boots and let her suffer when her old TV goes out, or go ahead and do what I know shes going to need.

    • handtalker55 (Edit) Report

      Consider asking someone how she could watch TV on her college laptop. Ask other college kids if they watch tv. Colleges usually have a commons area where they can watch TV.

  15. verAbsmith Report

    It’s as if this article was directly sent from God to me this morning. Not only is our 11 year old raring up for Christmas, she just had a birthday yesterday. So, this very subject is a sore one every December. Thank you!



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