Spoiled entitlement has to be among the most universally despised human qualities. Despite this, many parents would agree that one of the greatest goals in their life is to make sure that their children have more than they had. How can these two opposing facts be reconciled?
Rest assured, parents can give things to their kids without spoiling them, and this is far easier than it may first appear to be. The key isn’t in how much they give to their children. Instead, it has everything to do with how the parents behave in their own lives.
There are three main ways for kids to get spoiled.
- The parent is spoiled, and therefore raises the kids with the entitlement mindset.
- The parent is neglectful and only knows how to show care for the children by giving them material things.
- The parent is uncertain and confused and gives the child more than they should because they mean well.
This article focuses on that last group. Good parents don’t have to teach their children to be happy in want. The goal is to build up kids’ self-esteem so they can both appreciate what they have and empathize with others who don’t have as much. Children won’t be flawless if parents achieve this. But at least the flaws won’t involve being a spoiled brat.
Here are five tips to help parents on this journey:
- Be an example for your children by showing rather than telling.
Kids learn more by observing what their parents do than from what the parents say. Developing brains actually require this; for example, babies learn to walk and talk by observing and then imitating other people. If you want your child to have good health habits, then make sure they observe you eating well and exercising yourself. And if you want your kids to read, you’ll achieve more by reading yourself than by yelling at them about their video games.
Subtler lessons like moral values are learned by similar means. If you live within your means, treat other people with compassion, and act within a moral code, you’ll almost certainly see your kids grow to adopt similar values and virtues.
- Express genuine gratitude to your children and the other people around you.
A lack of a sense of gratitude is the core attribute of the people generally considered to be obnoxiously entitled. And, as in No. 1 above, it’s not bad to teach your kids to say “thank you” when somebody gives them something. But doing so yourself will accomplish far more.
You can even take this one step further. Every now and then, open your heart to experiencing genuine, overwhelming gratitude, and let your children see you express it. When you exclaim in amazement over somebody’s kindness instead of just a polite acknowledgment, those young kid brains will truly absorb what they’re viewing, and the children will crave the opportunity to react the same way.
- Don’t give your kids too much.
One hundred years ago, not even the wealthiest businessman had the luxury of a smartphone, air conditioning, or a crummy TV set—things most of us take for granted these days. There isn’t a way to objectify what’s “too much” to give your kid, but you can subjectify it.
Parents often give their children more than they feel comfortable giving. Perhaps they want to appear generous or impressive to their friends. More likely, it’s due to a fear of their kids’ disappointment or anger. Giving like this creates distress, confusion, and pain in the young minds because the kids can and do pick up on their parents’ underlying feelings. They don’t know if they should feel grateful or guilty, and may even feel bad for ever wanting the thing they wanted at all.
If this happens enough, the child will eventually learn to ignore her conscience as a coping mechanism, and will therefore lose her connection to her own senses of good/bad and right/wrong. This will cause her to appear spoiled.
So, it’s okay to be an imperfect parent who gives inconsistently but honestly. It’s better than feeling shame or disappointment about giving. But it’s best to have clear and consistent limits on how much to give, and then sticking to your limits.
It’s important to note that your kids’ arguments and tantrums over your limits don’t mean you’re doing something wrong. It’s part of a child’s job description to test your boundaries. When they do, be open to listening to their complaints. Then, unless they actually talk you into changing your opinion, be strong and stand your ground. Deep down, they need this from you.
- Share your budget with your children.
Let your children know your household’s budgetary details, such as how your past year went financially speaking. If it was a good year, maybe you can afford to buy yourself a new car for the holidays, and get Junior that new video game console. If it wasn’t, then you may choose instead to put a down payment on a used car, and Junior gets a new game for his current console. The lessons he’ll learn is that you and he are linked together and that the love behind giving and receiving doesn’t depend on earnings levels.
- Express gratitude for what your kids do.
The greatest tip to avoid raising spoiled, entitled brats is a combination of all the above, and it may feel counter-intuitive. But here it is: thank your kids as often as you can. Let them experience how good it feels to receive gratitude. Program them to feel all warm and fuzzy about giving. This will accomplish the opposite of spoiling. You’ll plant the seeds for a happy, generous, caring young adult.
Of course, spoiling can and still will occur. But if you consciously treat your child from your heart and inner strength, you’ll see that integrity is contagious. Keep at it, and you may even help spark a movement!