The weekend after Thanksgiving, I was driving my son and his friend home after spending the day taking them to play laser tag at a local adventure zone-type place as a special treat. While there, I'd sprung for pizza and milk shakes. I figured I was in the running for "Mom of the Year" with that little trip. Right? Wrong.
When we were about a mile from our house, my son proved again that the word "enough" is not in his vocabulary.
"Hey Mom, can you stop and get us an ice cream cone?"
"Wait. You want more ice cream?" I thought I'd heard wrong, but he and his friend nodded vigorously in the rear view mirror.
"What? Uh, no way! You just had milk shakes," I said, my voice rising to the "Mom's gonna lose it in a minute" half-screech level. Even so, they didn't give up without some serious campaigning and wheedling.
Later on that night, my son sighed and said (like one of the greedy, overly-entitled kids from Willy Wonka): "Today would have been perfect if you had just stopped and gotten us that ice cream."
And, in the time-honored tradition of parents everywhere, I went ballistic.
"Are you kidding me? After everything I did for you guys today? Do you know how lucky I would have been to go play laser tag when I was a kid?!"
He just shook his head and said, "I feel sorry for you, Mom." (Argggghhh! Not the point I was trying to make!)
Needless to say, when my son acts this way, it pushes all my buttons from A through Z.
And I know I'm not alone. This not a new phenomenon, either, although kids today seem to have taken it to a whole 'nother level. (Maybe it has to do with the fact that there's just more stuff out there for them to have or do? Or that we're not as good at saying "no" as our parents were?)
So how can we learn ways to stay calm, set limits and handle this behavior better — especially around this time of year?
I sat down with Becky Staples, the wise and wonderful manager of our 1-on-1 Coaching team, and asked her that very question. In this brand new EP podcast, she tells parents three important thing they can do to handle entitlement in kids — and manage their own triggers. (Click here to download the podcast to your device.)
The big takeaways I've learned on this subject from Becky and from our other experts here at EP are:
- De-escalate by Disconnecting: When your child is in your face demanding more, rather than engaging with him or her, walk away. If you're in a store, what I've said is, "We're not going to talk about this right now. I'll talk to you later when we're both calm." (For more tips on how to handle tantrums, read Dr. Joan's excellent article, Stopping a Temper Tantrum in its Tracks: What to Do When Kids Lose It.)
- Calm is Contagious: Staying calm can be hard, I know, and sometimes feels next to impossible. (Just ask my son how I do with it!) But I'm finding it does get easier the more you practice, just like anything else. Deep breathing and walking away help me a lot. You can't control what happens most (any!) of the time, but you can control how you respond. If you don't react to everyone's anxiety and chaos around you, but stay calm instead, you give yourself firm ground to stand on. As Debbie Pincus says, "Calm is Contagious." (For more on how to respond to overly-entitled kids, read her latest article Demanding Children and Teens: Is Entitlement Just a Phase? )
- You Can't Always Get What You Want: This is one of the best lessons you can teach your child.Yes, we want our kids to have hopes and dreams, but that doesn't mean that just because they want something they will automatically get it. It's not a case of "I am, therefore I deserve everything I ask for," even though kids tend to think that way sometimes. A good thing to teach your child is that in order to get some of the things they want, they need to work for it. So if there's something your child wants that's out of your budget, for example, you can tell them, "I will give you x amount of dollars for Christmas/your birthday towards this gift. You will have to come up with the rest of it by doing odd jobs, saving your allowance, etc." This teaches your child about deferred gratification and the values of working hard and saving money. Even though it doesn't always feel good to do it, saying "no" (and setting limits around how you will respond to their demands) is one of the best things you can do for your child.
Phew. There is really so much to parenting, isn't there? It's not always easy, but I believe it's the most important thing we will ever do in life.
Wishing a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family, from everyone here at Empowering Parents.
About Elisabeth Wilkins
Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.