How to avoid raising entitled children
Always putting your kids first can lead to them having a sense of entitlement and cause parental stress
AS WE sat around the dinner table one night, I asked my friends – a married couple in their early thirties – whether they considered themselves or their children to be the most important people in their home. The couple answered in unison and without hesitation: their children, of course.
The question had intrigued me after reading it recently in an article by USbased family psychologist and parenting expert John Rosemond. I asked the same question of other friends who are also parents and received the same response each time – the kids.
And judging by the response we got when we posed the question on YOU’s Facebook page, parents these days all seem to hold their offspring in high regard, unequivocally declaring their children to be the most important people in their home.
In his article published earlier this year, Rosemond recalls his response to a couple who said their three kids were the most important people in their home. He asked them why, and when all they could come up with were appeals to emotion, he told them there was “no reasonable thing” that gave their kids that status.
“I went on to point out that many, if not most, of the problems they’re having with their kids are the result of treating children as if they [mom and dad], their marriage and their family exist because of the child when it is, in fact, the other way around,” Rosemond writes.
His view is that idolising your children, and making them feel as though the family revolves around them and their needs, can lead to kids who grow up with a
sense of entitlement. An entitled child, he says, believes that a relationship is a one-way street that travels in his direction. “It’s a child who fails to learn that satisfying relationships are about people serving one another.”
Rosemond, who at the age of 69 still gives presentations to parents and teachers across the US, doesn’t mince his words. “An entitled child, to people my age, is obnoxious,” he says. “But we also realise his obnoxiousness isn’t his fault.
“The old-fashioned term is spoilt; the newfangled term is entitled,” Rosemond says, adding it’s worth pointing out that it’s possible for a child not to be spoilt in the material sense but still be entitled because his parents have treated him like an idol.
It’s the result of a shift in the psychology of childrearing that occurred in the late ’60s and early ’70s, he believes. That was “when kids became king”.
SO HOW DID IT HAPPEN? Once upon a time, Rosemond says, children were second-rate citizens – and he believes this was actually good for them. “When we were kids, it was clear to us our parents were the most important people in our families. And that, right there, is why we respected them and why we looked up to adults in general.”
Children didn’t sleep in their parents’ bed or interrupt their conversations. “The family meal, at home, was regarded as more important than after-school activities,” he says.
In the good old days, parents weren’t swayed by a child’s emotional outbursts. “When today’s parents make decisions that cause their children emotional pain, they actually see it as an indication that their decisions should be revisited.”
Local experts we spoke to agree with Rosemond that modern parents often place their children on a pedestal – and then pay the price later in life.
“We’re losing the pecking order in family life,” says Nikki Bush, Johannesburgbased parenting expert and author or Future-proof Your Child. “Parents are wanting to be their children’s friend, not their parent.”
This shift in parenting style came from a well-intentioned attempt to raise kids with high self-esteem, but has actually resulted in demanding children and 2 TEACH THEM TO RESPECT AUTHORITY Entitled kids often struggle at school as they’ve become used to telling adults what to do, Rosemond warns. While we want to raise kids who know how to speak up for themselves, it’s important parents who are stressed out by child-rearing Rosemond says.
WHY MOM AND DAD SHOULD COME FIRST The shift in parenting style has also taken the focus away from the needs of the marital relationship and placed it squarely on that of the children. Rosemond recalls how before the shift happened, “mom and dad talked more – a lot more – with one another than they talked with you”.
Bush says parents need to take care of themselves and their marriage first.
“In our busy, fast-paced world marriages are falling apart because they’re not getting enough attention. And children need to see us taking care of our relationships so they learn how to do it themselves,” Bush says.
According to Rosemond, there’s nothing that creates a better sense of wellbeing in a child than the knowledge that his parents are in a permanent relationship – not perfect, but permanent.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest that the marriage, and not individual needs, be the priority in the family, that the spousal relationship trumps the parentchild relationship,” he says. “And that that’s clear to the child.”
That parents are the head of the family should be clear even in homes where they’ve split up.
‘It’s in everyone’s best interest that the marriage be the priority’
RAISING GOOD CITIZENS Rosemond believes that going back to a more traditional and common sense
(From previous page) approach to raising children will mean happier, more emotionally resilient kids who are better prepared to contribute value to society as adults.
The primary objective, he says, is to raise a child in such a way that community and culture are strengthened.
Durban-based parenting experts Colleen Wilson and Candice Dick of Contemporary Parenting agree that the idea of raising children who understand the value of being part of society is of the utmost importance.
“Raising entitled children who feel as if they’re owed something might also disadvantage them later on in life when they finally experience the rest of the world and encounter people who don’t prioritise them,” they caution.
Bush agrees. “Entitled kids might go through school thinking they’re extra-special and then they leave school and end up in a huge pool of kids at university or college and suddenly they realise they’re not so extra-special after all,” she says.
FIND BALANCE Children don’t need to be spoilt for their fundamental needs to be met, Bush says. “It’s about finding that balance between paying too much attention to your children and not paying enough attention to them.
“In my opinion children ask three nonverbal questions every day of the people they love – ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Am I important to you?’ And they need to get a ‘yes’ answer to all three.”
But keep in mind that getting a “yes” to all three doesn’t equate to getting everything they want.