By Joanna Teigen, Crosswalk.com
From the time we fell in love, Rob and I dreamed of raising a big family.
It felt like just a few short years before we were parenting a full house with four children. Life with siblings meant our kids were used to hand-me-downs, sharing toys and treats, and taking turns for one-on-one time with mom and dad.
Like all kids, they had their fair share of squabbles and sibling rivalries. Yet our busy days as “team Teigen” meant none of our children believed the world revolved around them.
Fast forward a few years more, and we were blessed to grow our family again through adoption. The wide age gap between him and his siblings made parenting our young son feel a little new and unfamiliar.
After all, nobody was interested in playing with his toys. His toddler snacks and tricycle were no temptation to teenagers. While the girls crowded into a small, shared bedroom, our little guy enjoyed his own space with a cozy crib in the corner.
Our young son’s needs and wants were satisfied with little wait and no competition.
This new reality of parenting an almost-only-child challenged us to think and grow as his mom and dad. We wondered, How do we teach him to share and take turns? What if he becomes spoiled or selfish? How do we keep a me-first attitude from taking over his heart?
Here are five strategies we discovered to help avoid entitlement in young children.
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1. Delay Gratification
In our heart of hearts, all of us want what we want, and we want it NOW!
We feel frustrated by slow traffic, shipping delays for our online orders, and slow drive-throughs when we’re hangry and tired. Yet as adults we’ve learned to cope with the trial of “wait” without falling apart.
Young children, however, haven’t had many years to practice patience. They lack cause-and-effect thinking that understands why candy is saved for dessert and gifts stay wrapped until Christmas morning. Waiting is a weak muscle that needs the constant exercise of delayed gratification to grow strong in our children.
To work that muscle, we teach them to accept “not yet” instead of caving in to childish demands. Invite them to give a quiet hug for attention instead of loudly interrupting your phone calls.
When shopping, encourage, “I really like that,” instead of “Will you get that for me?” Log their wish list and issue a small weekly allowance so they can save up for those items.
Reward their wins in waiting every day. If your child expects a game once you’ve answered your email, make sure to close up the laptop and play as promised.
If they make it through the store with no fussing or begging, celebrate with lots of praise and even an unexpected treat.
Let them mark the days leading up to special events with fun stickers on the calendar. In time, they’ll learn the old truth that “good things come to those who wait.”
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Josh Applegate
2. Give and Serve
You’re aware if entitlement is taking over your child’s spirit.
Maybe all too often you hear the words, Mine! I want that! Leave my stuff alone. It’s my turn, or That’s not fair!
You see your son or daughter grabbing for the good stuff and attention in your home. If the sickness of selfishness has come over your child, the best medicine is to help and give to others.
Look for simple ways for your child to pitch in and serve your family. Even a preschooler can help unload groceries from the car. They can toss laundry into the dryer, wipe smudges from the patio door, and scoop kibble into the dog dish. Include your child in helping the household run smoothly.
This moves them from living like guests in the house to needed and valuable members of the family.
If your child craves more and more stuff, offer the priceless gift of giving to others. Brainstorm ways to bless your neighbors—perhaps you’ll team up to bake cookies or cut a bouquet of flowers to share.
Gently teach the hard reality that many in the world are suffering. Invite your son or daughter to support a charity with a part of their allowance.
Our kids enjoyed filling bags with snacks and clean socks to distribute to the homeless in our city. As your child puts smiles on others’ faces, they’ll take hold of Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Tim Marshall
3. Teach That Less Is More
Chances are, an entitled kid has accumulated piles of possessions over months or years of the “gimmies.”
Toys are entertaining until they overflow their containers and become jumbled or lost. It’s fun to shop for new clothes, but a stuffed dresser or closet keeps them rumpled and hard to find. Limitless sweets make for grumpy sugar crashes and miserable trips to the dentist.
It takes effort to teach our kids they can truly have too much of a good thing.
Some families reset their kids’ quest for more by setting a “one in, one out” rule. For every toy or article of clothing, another must be set aside to donate or throw away.
Involve your child in cleaning and organizing to teach them that material things take work to manage and maintain. They’ll take pause before bringing more purchases into their hard-won tidy space.
Build in rewards for the times your child chooses less over more. Boost their allowance on a day they purge clutter from their closet.
Let your daughter perform a fashion show by turning her current wardrobe into new, creative outfits. Set up a garage-sale table where your child can sell their extra things.
Encourage quality over quantity, too.
Savor a single scoop of premium fudge brownie ice cream instead of bowlfuls of cheap vanilla. Let your child choose one best-ever hoodie over six so-so items from the clearance rack.
Gradually, your kids will reject the lie that more is more and become content with the blessings in their life.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Anna Kolosyuk
4. Practice Gratitude
At its core, entitlement is an overblown sense of what we deserve.
Our human pride rears its head, saying the world owes us the first place in line. The donut with the most sprinkles. The last word in a fight.
Entitlement is a self-issued pass to say and do and get what we please, no matter how it affects those around us.
When entitlement takes root in our children, life never feels as fair or blessed as they desire. We see greed before gratitude and complaining instead of celebrating.
Anger is unleashed at whoever stands between them and that thing they have to have right now. Worst of all, their faith and understanding of God is damaged.
“Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks… As a result, their minds became dark and confused” (Romans 1:21 ESV).
Did you catch that little phrase in the verse that said, “give him thanks”? The first step toward change is praising God.
Our kids’ entitlement can be washed away by naming each gift they’ve been given. It means praying a word of thanks at the table.
Mailing Grandma a thank-you card for her gift. Using kind manners like “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.” Keeping a journal to record the day’s blessings before bed.
It’s finding special, creative ways to make the most of the Thanksgiving holiday.
By taking every opportunity to rejoice in God’s goodness, entitlement will slide right out the door of your home.
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5. Know the One Who Provides
Moms and dads can feel tremendous pressure to make all our kids’ dreams come true. Entitlement ramps up the arguing and whining for us to give, give, and give some more.
Yet one of our most powerful callings as parents is to introduce our children to the true Source of all we have.
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:10)
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
Each time our kids come to us with a wish or a worry, we can kneel in prayer together. They can bring their childlike desires to God for that appealing toy on the shelf.
For a bike that’s better fitting after their growth spurt. For music or riding lessons to satisfy their eagerness to try something new. For friendship if they feel alone or strength to play their best game yet.
After a hard loss or a “no,” our kids can pray to trust in God’s goodness and perfect control of their life. By knowing their true Provider, our children will feel more loved and content than ever before.
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