Entitled Kids, Defensive Parents
Many of today’s kids have been brought up hearing over and over again about how “special” and “smart” they are. The unintended consequence of this type of upbringing, (which, on the surface, seems like a wonderful way to build self-confidence and self-esteem) is that kids actually believe that what they want should take top priority and that their wants are their needs (gotta have it now).
Being told that you're special but not recognizing that that means "you’re special to me" has many adverse consequences. Being told that you’re smart but not recognizing that this doesn’t entitle you to special privileges can create havoc with relationships.
Kids who believe they're special are at risk for growing up to be narcissists. They may come to believe that:
“I should get what I want, simply because I want it.”
“I’m entitled to the best just because I say so.”
“My wants are my needs.”
“My needs should take precedence over yours.”
This kind of thinking breeds people who are a legend in their own minds. Not a good attitude for a young person; not a good attitude for any sane relationship.
If you are raising an entitled kid and acting like a defensive parent, here’s what you must do:
- First, when your child is upset or frustrated, you must not allow her to bully you, curse at you, call you nasty names or otherwise treat you disrespectfully. If she does, you must change the course of the conversation, making the manner in which you are spoken to the new discussion. If she evokes freedom of speech issues (“I can say what I want; it’s a free country”), don’t take the bait. Tell her that you won’t tolerate being treated with disrespect. Having stated your position, don't go into a tirade or a full-blown lecture. This is one of those times when less is more.
Respect, however, is a two way street. A child models what he hears. Thus, you will have no leg to stand on if you curse him out but expect him to abide by different rules. Indeed, if you think it’s okay for you to speak to your child disrespectfully but not okay the other way around, you are modelling the concept that you're special, hence not accountable for your bad behavior.
- Secondly, you must strive to undo this “special syndrome” by changing how you compliment your child. Instead of telling her how special or smart she is, compliment her for her actions and efforts. Focused feedback such as, “I admire the way you handled that,” or “I could see you put a lot of effort into that project,” is best. If your child already thinks she’s special, don’t gush approval. Instead, offer moderate and targeted compliments.
- Third, let your child experience the natural consequences of his actions. If he thinks he’s special, he may believe he doesn’t need to pick up his dirty clothes from the floor; somebody else will surely do that. Make it a rule that if clothes don’t go in the hamper, there are no clean clothes. If your son expects you to bail him out of trouble by covering for him or doing the bulk of his school project, change your pattern. Let him get into trouble at school. Yes, you may need to suffer through a tantrum or two in which you hear about how unfair you are, but stick to your guns.
Yes, these suggestions are hard to implement. It’s often easier to just let things be as they are. But know that short-term appeasement is the precursor of long-term regret.
Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist and success coach. She specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.PsychWisdom.com.
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