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Avoid raising an entitled child: 5 strategies that really work

The "me, me, me epidemic" is a real problem with kids. The good news? It's totally curable.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

You may have seen it, or felt it — that phenomenon that seems to have taken over kids in recent years and turned them into entitled, me-centric beings? I call it the “The Me, Me, Me Epidemic,” and believe it or not, it happens in tiny little ways every single day when we’re not conscious of it. The good news? It is totally curable!

We’ve all known kids (maybe even in our own families) who feel entitled to have things go their way, who expect the best of life without rolling up their sleeves and for whom gratitude is not a part of their attitude. While these kids can be hard to live with now, over-entitled kids eventually become high-maintenance employees and demanding spouses with the same childish attitudes, only on a greater scale. It’s a big problem, because kids who feel entitled to call the shots all the time are unable to handle it when things don’t go their way (like here in the real world).

While we can point fingers and blame social media, reality TV, and a host of other outside influences, one of the biggest factors in the spread of this “epidemic” is us — the parents. Of course, we want the best for our kids and none of us intends to raise an entitled child, but often in our loving attempts to do the best for our kids, we over-parent. We over-indulge, over-praise and mow down any obstacle in their path with ninja-like swiftness. And when we do? We rob kids of the opportunity to do for themselves, learn from mistakes, or overcome adversity. For your sake and for your kids, consider these five strategies for turning the tide:

1. Expect more

Give your kids some credit. They can and SHOULD make meaningful contributions to the family. Expect your toddlers to teens to do Family Contributions (not “chores”) on a daily basis and expect them to take on increasing amounts of responsibility through the years. After all, they are part of the family and everyone’s contributions matter. When you hold your kids to a higher standard, they WILL meet it — and often exceed it. What they’ll get in return will be life skills they need to head out into the world as happier, more successful and self-sufficient human beings. And you? You get to know that you helped to make that happen. (Way to go!)

2. Give up on giving in

Do you ever say YES when you really want to say No? Cave at the candy counter at checkout? Pacify with the treat when your kid is throwing a fit? It’s time to turn over a new leaf and have the courage to say “NO” and mean it! You’ll teach your kids that life won’t always go their way and that’s OK. You’ll be establishing — and sticking — to healthy boundaries. And your little ones and big ones will learn that fit-throwing, eye-rolling, and pouting isn’t going to do the trick. Now, for all of you who struggle with this — repeat after me: I’m NOT being a bad guy — I’m being a good PARENT. You can do this!

"The 'Me, Me, Me' Epidemic" book cover
Penguin Random House

3. Hand over the reins

Every time we rescue our kids from their mistakes, intervene on their behalf, or smooth the way so things are easier for them, we rob them of a learning opportunity — the chance to be responsible, to figure it out for themselves, or to face a scary situation. Little by little they just stop trying. It’s time to hand over the reins to their rightful owner. Instead of rushing the homework to school so your kids don’t get in trouble, let them know with love (and plenty of training so they can be successful) that it’s their responsibility to remember what they need each day. Let them know that having their own conversations with teachers, coaches and peers about issues that arise is powerful part of growing up. You can help prepare them by role-playing so THEY can have respectful conversations and learn problem-solving skills. Trust in your kids’ ability and turn over the reins so they can learn from their successes and failures. You’ll be there to support them — but they’ll feel so much more empowered by handling things on their own without you intervening or rescuing.

4. Shut down the ATM

This is a big one. Instant gratification is king in today’s society. “I want it, I get it. Now.” The best way to fight this phenomenon with our kids is to stop handing over $20 whenever they ask for it. Instead, set a specific allowance amount per week and a list of expenses your child is now responsible to cover. Little kids can use allowance for “treats” when they go to the store, big kids can be responsible for school lunches, school clothing and entertainment. Allowance is an essential tool to teach delayed gratification and fiscal responsibility — how to spend wisely, save, budget, and give charitably. How will our kids be successful with a real paycheck and bigger expenses if they don’t learn those important life skills at home? Teach them the tools and help them flourish.

5. Un-center their universe

The research is clear that those with an “attitude of gratitude” in life are happier, less depressed, take stress in stride, and see life with a healthy optimism. In our over-indulged culture, we know that gratitude takes practice. It’s something we have to teach our kids. Model for them and let them know the world doesn’t OWE anyone anything — and that we all have to do our part to make it a better place. Help kids learn to appreciate their circumstances. When you practice daily gratitude rituals at home, actively seek to do random acts of kindness, and find opportunities to serve others throughout the year (not just during the holidays) — you are helping to set your children and your family on the path to a much more rewarding life.

RELATED: Read an excerpt from Amy McCready's book "The 'Me, Me, Me' Epidemic"

As parents, we hold the key to eradicating this epidemic. There are powerful un-entitling tools we can use every day to turn the tide of entitlement in our kids and help them to grow into responsible, respectful, more empowered adults. Your kids and society will thank you!

TODAY Parenting Team contributor Amy McCready is the founder of and the author of “The ‘Me, Me, Me’ Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World.”

This article was originally published on Sept. 16, 2015.