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.

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