GIMME, GIMME, GIMMME!

mama-to-mama1111Any of you out there interested in raising a perfectly spoiled, totally ungrateful, downright rude child? One who has a well-developed sense of entitlement and an uncanny ability to always be first in line and get the biggest piece? The kind of child who grows up to be a pushy, demanding, selfish, loud, and aggressive adult? No? Are you sure?

Didn’t think so. Nobody really enjoys being around people like that whether they are big or little. And no parent worth his or her weight in salt would try to create that on purpose. But guess what? Kids don’t get that way by accident.

The seeds of entitlement and self-centered (it’s all about me) behavior are planted early and need a lot of tending and encouragement in order to take root. Parents are definitely not off the hook on this one and their behavior often serves as a powerful model for the aspiring jackass.

Luckily, you can avoid ending up as the mother of a Bernie Madoff, Paris Hilton, or Ebenezer Scrooge clone. But if you’re really serious about it, it’s not just your child whose behavior will need a close look. You’re going to have to pay attention to your own, too. Ouch. I know, I hate to look in the mirror, too. But after all, the entitled parent begets the entitled child, no question about it.

So what can you do? The good news is, a lot. Even if your child is teeny tiny you can get going now on averting this potential disaster and years of therapy or parole officers later. Here are a few things to keep in mind…

ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE

You: Teach her to be polite by saying “please” and “thank you” to the man at the cleaners, the grocery store clerk, the waiter, the kid at the video store and everybody else that you come in contact with.

Your child: Make sure she does the same. By about one and a half, she can. She won’t get the full meaning of these words just yet, but will get familiar with the custom and gradually gain the full understanding of what she is saying.

AT THE MOVIES OR A PERFORMANCE

You: Teach him to be considerate by never cutting in line, pushing, or crowding other people. “Don’t forget to use your manners” won’t work if he sees you turn into a steamrolling witch when you’re out and about.

Your child: Don’t allow him to talk loudly or often during the movie or kick the seat in front of him. If he’s with you, you’re responsible for what he does that annoys other people.

IN THE CAR

You: Show him what it means to be patient. Don’t cut people off in traffic, don’t yell at bad drivers or flip them the bird. Demonstrating how to control your temper when you’re frustrated is a powerful lesson and your children are taking mental notes. Even though little Suzie seems to be focused elsewhere, trust me, it’s you she’s tuned into.

Your child: Encourage her to hang in there and behave nicely even though she may be tired and sick of being in the car. Let her know that you believe she can stop whining or yelling and that you expect her to try her best. On the other hand, keep your expectations realistic and offer conversation, diversions and interesting things to do while driving from one place to the next.

IN THE COMMUNITY

You: Bring your child with you to deliver food to the food bank and outgrown clothes to the community center. Explain that some people don’t have enough to eat or clothes and shoes to keep them warm.

Your child: Encourage him to help you hold the door for the elderly, mothers with strollers or anyone with special needs. Explain that we all need to look out for each other. Help him collect cans to bring for the food drive at school. He can even buy one or two with his own money.

AT SCHOOL

You: When a problem develops at school, don’t immediately side with your child against the teacher. Get the story straight without getting defensive. All kids (including yours) act out at times. See it as a teachable moment. He will never learn if you always clean up the mess.

Later, talk to him privately in a calm, serious way. Explain that his behavior was not okay and help him figure out other ways to handle the situation in the future.

Your child: Ask him to apologize to the teacher or other person involved. Help him choose his words. Afterwards, thank him for taking responsibility. Let him know that it made you proud.

IN A RESTAURANT

You: Don’t bring a laptop and show a movie. Please! No adult wants to watch The Lion King when they go out to dinner. Don’t let him run around, throw or play with his food, drop it on the floor and then let the waiter clean up the mess. And please turn off your cell phone.

Your child: Make him stay put in his chair, use an “inside” voice, use silverware, and thank the waiter.

AT THE PLAYGROUND

You: Watch your child’s behavior carefully and remember that the playground belongs to everyone. Don’t litter or leave a mess. Sure, kids will be kids. But it’s your job to teach your child to share and respect other people and property.

Your child: Encourage him to take turns. No hogging the swing. If he grabs something from another child, don’t just look the other way or give it back yourself. Have your child say he’s sorry and return the item. Take time to explain how taking someone else’s toy might have made that person feel.

AT HOME

There is so much you can teach at home. This is really their primary classroom in life.

You: Teach self-control by saying no and setting limits without using physical force, intimidation or verbal abuse. “No” is a really important word for them to understand, but you don’t want to model bullying behavior or teach them it’s okay to abuse power. Same goes for your relationship with your partner. Violence between parents almost always shows up again in the next generation.

Your child: Don’t allow him to hit, bite or scratch when he’s angry or frustrated. Help him to use his words to talk about his feelings.

You: Teach appreciation and that his actions have impact by commenting when he behaves well: ” Thank you for getting into the car so nicely. That was a big help.” Or for doing thoughtful, kind things: “Thank you for helping to set the table; for putting your dirty clothes in the hamper; for that really nice hug. It really helped!”

Your child: Make sure he also learns to say thank you to family members when they give him a drink, help him put on his shoes or clean up his toys.

You: Show him that all people deserve respect regardless of age or size by saying “Excuse me,” when you bump him (or the baby) accidentally, or “I’m sorry,” if you need to, and always speak to him in a respectful tone of voice.

Your child: Don’t let him get TOO bossy with his younger siblings. And when a fight happens, don’t just send them off to “work it out.” Kids need to learn HOW to work it out. They need to learn how to listen to each other and how to go beyond blaming. They need to learn strategies for solving problems with their peers from you.

You: Teach gratitude by writing thank you notes with your child. Talk about the gift she received and explain that someone went to a lot of trouble to get it for her and that a “thank you” is important.

Your child: She can make her contribution to the letter by putting stickers on it or adding a little drawing, and then be the one to put it in mailbox.

Okay, so that was a lot! But believe me,  if you step up and really get serious, your kids will be the winners. They may even thank you for it later!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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