One of the greatest challenges brought to us by educators is how to handle children who carry a sense of entitlement. The many ways that a sense of entitlement is created could be discussed and debated and have been in many different forums and articles. It may be that we have created a child-first culture. It may be the problem of the participation trophies that reinforce that you will be rewarded just for showing up. It may be that you are dealing with one of those walk-around-on-egg-shell kids and in the fear of setting that child off, you give in. Maybe it's the long hours that we all work and we're just too tired to deal with issues, so we give in again. For kids with specific needs, it is even harder to tell the difference between what you need to do to accommodate a child and when you are actually enabling a sense of entitlement in that same child. Here are three strategies to address and eliminate entitlement:
Stop waiting on your child. I (Donna) mean that both literally and in the sense that we usually think about it. Allowing your child to run the show when it is time to leave says to that child that your needs, or someone else's needs, do not matter. For example, twice now, I have been delayed in being able to end my workday and get home for dinner due to parents waiting on their child. Lights are off, I'm locking up, and I come around the corner to find the family in the waiting room. When I asked what I could do to help, I was told, "we are waiting for (our child) to finish playing. I firmly stated to the child (and the parents) that in this moment, her needs were not the priority. She had her time to play and now it was time for my needs to be recognized as the priority. In a different waiting-on-the-child situation, I had a tween bring in a bag of popcorn to his group and proceed to make a mess with it all over the floor. He balked when I handed him the dust pan and broom, and I explained that it was his mess, not mine. I never automatically open items such as snack bags or put straws in juice boxes. These items are frequently handed to me in an automatic way. I take the time to show the child the process of opening a bag (pinch each side and then pull) and encourage them to try the process of helping themselves a few times before asking for help. Kids with fine motor challenges do need help, so I accommodate that if they try and still have trouble. Accommodation is different than creating learned helplessness.
Do not allow your child to force other kids (or siblings) to share. Sharing is not always the right thing to do. Say that one child is playing with an item and another child wants it. By forcing the first child to share the item, we have created entitlement in the child who wants it, making that child think he or she can have whatever he or she wants, just by saying so. We use the strategy of saying that the particular item the child wants is not available. It may not become available, so the child will need to find another item to play with. The exception to this rule is if the item has been deemed a community item (ahead of time) and the rules of how to share it clearly stated. For example, I have a couple of remote control cars that the kids enjoy playing with. These are community items and everyone is allowed a 5-minute (timed) turn. However, if a child is playing with a couple of highly-desired Lego mini figures, those are unavailable.
It's not your turn to be happy. We've talked about this phrase in other blogs, and it's worth mentioning again in this little piece on entitlement. When I was recently in Disney with my family (six of us) we had to use this premise. Of course, we were in Disney and pretty happy to be there anyway, but we took turns being in charge of where to go and what to do next so that everyone had a fair shot and seeing or doing what he or she wanted to see or do. Your child needs to understand that other people have needs and other people's needs do matter, yours included.
We do our kids a disservice if we allow that seed of entitlement and "only my needs" matter to become part of a child's make-up. I realized in a moment of frustration with one of the kids in my group around this issue, that I was frustrated with the wrong person. A six-year old knows what he or she has been taught to believe. Eliminating entitlement starts with us, the adults, teaching children that everyone's needs matter and we will not always have our own way.