By Alison Bowen
No one wants to be the parent of a child going viral in a video, screaming in a restaurant or throwing a tantrum in the cereal aisle. So how can parents form a foundation that fights back against a culture in which it seems kids are entitled to anything?
Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and author of “The ‘Me, Me, Me’ Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World,” talked to us about tamping down the scourge of entitlement. This is an edited transcript.
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: Most of my work has been around teaching parents how to bring out the best in their kids. Over the years, this topic of entitlement kept coming up. Parents told me about kids not being able to take “no” for an answer, expecting bribes or rewards for expected behavior, kids who were not willing to help out at home, not taking personal responsibility.
The one thing I have found with all of these parents is that no one intends to raise an entitled child. It happens out of love. And it happens when we’re sort of doing things for our kids that they’re actually perfectly capable of doing for themselves. Or we don’t want them to experience disappointment, so we step in and rescue.
Q: What can parents do to curb this, for all ages?
A: There are actually 35 tools in the book. That is not to sound overwhelming, just to let parents know there are different ways. The most important thing that we have to do is give our kids what they are truly entitled to: our one-on-one time and attention. If you’re giving kids that time and attention, they’re much less likely to throw a fit in the grocery store. They’re much less likely to pull these antics.
Another piece is making sure all family members, toddlers to teens to adults, everybody contributes. It’s not a free ride for kids. From the time the kids are little, they need to understand that their contributions make a difference.
Q: What should you do as a bystander, if a child is having a meltdown?
A: It’s not appropriate or helpful to discipline another person’s child. What is appropriate is to have empathy for that mom or dad. You have no idea what happened three hours before that happened. And if it’s appropriate, offer some help: “Can I hold something for you? Is there anything that I can do?” Come from a place of empathy rather than judgment.
Q: What if someone else is allowing an entitled atmosphere for your child, whether a baby sitter, teacher or a well-meaning friend?
A: Recognize that you are the greatest influence on your child’s life. So if you’re doing your best to un-entitle your kid, and they go to grandma’s and eat marshmallows for dinner, who cares? However, if grandma is a primary caregiver and is sort of undermining what you’re trying to accomplish, well, then it’s time to have a conversation with grandma about that and encourage her to get on the same page with you and use the same tools that you’re using. Or consider another option for day care.
Q: How do you react if your child is the only one without something, or is being bullied because she’s the one kid in school without the latest thing?
A: First, I always say, demonstrate empathy. Because it is hard to be the kid who is driving the beat-up clunker when everybody else has brand-new cars for their 16th birthday. So (say), “I’m sure that would be great to have a brand-new car, but that’s not something that we can do in our family.” (Then), whatever the thing is, “Let’s talk about how we can make that happen.”
You can brainstorm with the child how they can make money, how they can have a part-time job. Or you can use a tool that I call “state what you can spend.” Your job as a parent is to clothe your kid. That doesn’t mean the most expensive clothes. (Say,) “I’m willing to spend $40 on a pair of jeans. If you want to get the XYZ jeans, you’re welcome to pay the difference out of your allowance or make extra money.” There will always be something that somebody else has that is better or cooler, and that’s just the way life is. That’s an important lesson.