Ending entitlement in our children

As parents, what we want most for our children is for them to be happy and healthy.  At the same time, we want them to be conscious individuals, who are aware of their own feelings, as well as aware of the feelings of others.  In essence, we don’t want them to be only happy—we want that happiness to serve a greater purpose.  We want them to take that positivity and awareness, and use it to uplift the world, and those who live in it.

Perhaps the opposite of this type of consciousness, is entitlement.  Entitlement is a term often used to describe people who are preoccupied with themselves, their own needs, and how people around them can meet those needs.  Instead of thinking about how one can help others, entitled people wonder about how others can help them.  As a parent with two young children, ages eight and nine, I want to avoid this outcome if at all possible.  I certainly want my children to recognize and express their needs, but I want them to be equally interested in knowing and helping others. 

So how can we as parents help avoid “entitlement syndrome” in our children?  Here are five strategies that parents might try to help raise more conscious, appreciate children:

  1. Cultivate gratitude:  Gratitude is the antidote to entitlement, because gratitude shifts our focus to being thankful for what we have, not asking for more.  Gratitude is a concept that children can pick up as early as four or five years old.  Simply start by modeling your own gratitude practice for your children.  Sprinkle in moments of noticing beauty or small acts of kindness in every day conversation.  For example, when out in the park with your child, you might say, “I feel so lucky to be outside in this warm weather.,” or “I am really thankful that we have this time together.”  Children will follow your lead, and start to pay attention and notice their gratitude for both the small and the big moments in life
  2. Encourage kindness:  We can teach our children from a young age that it is important to be kind to those around us.  Again, modeling kindness is the first step in showing children that it is a priority to you.  This can be as simple as holding the door open for the next person walking through, or making food for a family member or friend who is ill.  We can also recognize and praise courage when we see our children sharing or participating in other acts of kindness.  For example, if you see your child sharing a toy, make it a point to notice and say, “It was so kind of you to share your book with your friend.  I love how generous you are.” 
  3. Engage in service:  As children enter their tween and teen years, they can participate in service activities with the family.  Reflect with your child on causes that seem close to their heart.  Does your child have a special connection with animals, or feel strongly about environmental causes?  Find an age appropriate activity that resonates with a cause that your child believes in, and participate together as a family.  Your child may want or need to process their experience afterwards, and that is wonderful.  In doing so, it can be helpful to draw attention to the way your child feels inside when actively helping those in need.  It is tuning into that feeling, and the importance of serving those less fortunate, that will encourage a continued interest in service.
  4. Practice self care:  It is important for children to see that your entire life does not revolve around only their needs.  As parents, we need time to attend to work, exercise, recreation, rest, hobbies, other family members, and friends.  Our children may want our attention all of the time, but it is helpful for them to understand that their parents (and others) have needs and wants too.  For example, if your child wants your attention in the middle of an important phone call, you might say, “I know you really want my attention right now, but it is important for me to take this call.  Once I am done, I am happy to help you.”  We are demonstrating to our children that we all need to set healthy limits and boundaries with our time, and that we can do that with love and compassion. 
  5. Emphasize compromise:  Children have increasingly busy schedules, and we as parents are increasingly busy getting them to where they need to be.  Such a hectic lifestyle can be stressful for children, and unrealistic for parents who have demanding schedules of their own.  Over time, it is important for children to understand that their decisions have an impact on others.  If they choose to participate in several activities, that choice also affects the schedules of other family members.  Have an open dialogue with your children about how they want to spend their time, and allow them to make choices for both organized activity and relaxation.  Discuss together what is viable for the family as a whole, and allow them to participate in the process of compromise and negotiation.  This communicates to them that it is important to be considerate of other peoples’ needs when making decisions.

With gentle and consistent effort, we can help our children grow into conscious adults.  It is natural for children to see themselves as the center of their own universe.  With modeling and guidance, we can teach them over time to be kind and considerate of others as well.  It is important not to expect perfection right from the get go.  We can simply encourage continued practice as they learn and grow.

Monisha Vasa, M.D. is a board certified General and Addiction Psychiatrist in private practice in Orange County, CA. Dr. Vasa is the author of the non-fiction children’s books, My Dearest One and Saying Thank You. She is also a marathon runner and a student of yoga and meditation. Learn more about Dr. Vasa at http://monishavasa.com/ and read her blog on The Huffington Post.