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Just exactly what is entitlement? Entitlement is when a child assumes that he or she is deserving of something that they have not earned. In other words, they assume they should receive something for the mere fact of being who they are. Within this paradigm, there is not a causal relationship between good effort and reward. The unfortunate outcome of a child who feels entitled is that he or she does not follow the same rules as everyone else and frequently end up lonely and disappointed when interacting with the outside world. Entitled children also give off a flare of superiority that often makes others uncomfortable and their attitude is often very self-serving and lacks the sense of reciprocity expected in normal interpersonal relationships.
Like with any other personality characteristic, the building blocks of entitlement began in childhood and societal trends often guide the current parenting trends. For example, we have been experiencing the “me” generation for the past 20 years now. Here, the focus has been on making children feel important and special more than ever. On the one hand, this is a vital part of parenting. On the other hand, taken too far can lead a child to feel “too important” giving rise to entitled tendencies. Balance is always best. Any loving parent will also tell you that it pains them to bring dismay or pain to their child which is almost always guaranteed each time you say “no” to your kid, which goes back to the time when they began walking and talking. Parents who are afraid of upsetting their kids, which is what saying no does, often say “yes” too much giving the child the sense of omnipotence. If this becomes systemic, then you may be on your way breeding an entitled adult.
The two most common parental traits which contribute to the development of entitled children are guilt and fear. Guilt ridden parents are prone to overindulge their children. They seem to feel as though they owe their child something. You don’t. They need to accept things sometime. The child’s ability to tolerate frustration is a vital learning lesson and builds a solid character. The other group are the fearful parents who worry that they kids won’t like them anymore if they say no. Your kids love you but also like and dislike lots of things about you. This is fine. They aren’t going anywhere if you say no when you need to. They need you too much.
Getting out of an entitled condition involves changing things. The parent needs to learn how to say “no” and demand compliance and it involves the child accepting that they can tolerate not always getting what they want and everyone survives just fine. This is a process however, with bumps along the way, if there has been a history of giving in too much. As a parent, you may not only need to say no but also set some sort of a limit or take something away to help your child realize that you are serious. But, the good news is that children and adolescents are still in a state of personality formation so making changes during the years they are home can make a world of difference.
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to a full-time private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.