“Pointing to the one character trait that causes more misery in people’s lives than any other would be difficult… Certainly one of the top three or four destructive traits would be having a feeling of entitlement. Entitlement is when someone feels as if people owe him things or special treatment simply because he exists. People with this character trait feel entitled to privileges, special treatment, things other people have, respect, love, or whatever else they want. And when they do not get what they want, they feel that the one who is not giving it to them is ‘wrong’… They carry around a feeling of ‘you should,’ and they are always demanding something from someone.”
I found this definition of entitlement in Boundaries with Kids (Cloud/Townsend) to be extremely helpful; it’s a trait I contemplate frequently but rarely see discussed in much depth. We encounter an entitlement mindset in our son, age 5, fairly frequently and have been combatting it for years (I wrote about its first cropping up here, when he was 3.) He’s our firstborn, and several other mom friends have confirmed that this trait often appears more in their eldest than in other kids. Perhaps because they view themselves as on more similar footing to the resident adults as to the younger children, or perhaps because each was an only child before siblings were born. [I’m not saying that this is always the case, just that it is in our family and several others we know.]
We toilet-trained our 23-month old daughter last week, and for three days I kept her at my side all day. She basically got my undivided attention for those days – and also got to do things she normally wouldn’t (ie, stood on a chair at the counter for her snacks, walked around the house with a juice box). My husband commented, on the evening of the third day when he returned from work, how demanding and entitled her demeanor had become just over that short time. I’d noticed it myself; his observation reinforced my notion about the potential for entitlement mindsets in firstborns.
Cloud and Townsend contrast entitlement with gratitude, stating: “If you give something to entitled, envious people, it profits them or you nothing. They just feel that you have finally paid your debt to them. If you give to grateful people, they feel overwhelmed with how fortunate they are and how good you are. Parents need to help children work through their feelings of entitlement and envy and move to a position of gratitude.” I agree completely.
The thing that has been making the biggest difference in our son’s entitlement tendencies has been our move to utilize logical consequences (i.e., the Law of Sowing and Reaping) as a form of correction for misbehavior. He’s learning that he can, in fact, lose the things that he feels he has a right to – his 30 minutes of TV, his normal bedtime, his free time – has been teaching him more than our verbal training has ever gotten across. They are gifts to be appreciated, and if they aren’t appreciated, they can be taken away. (Or if he is going to make poor choices and persist in defiance, they can likewise be taken away. This is one way to demonstrate that it will not “go well with him” when he disobeys his parents.) This is another reason we’re finding that moving toward consequence-based correction for him at this stage in his development is often a better fit for him (and us) than other methods like outlasting and related measures.