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The 'great give-in': When parents contribute to their kids' entitlement

"The great give-in is a problem that endures through all the ages and stages of childhood," Amy McCready writes in "The 'Me, Me, Me' Epidemic."
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Whenever Amy McCready mentions the “entitlement epidemic” to a group of parents, she is inevitably met with eye rolls, nodding heads, and loaded comments about affected children. Here is an excerpt from McCready's new book, "The 'Me, Me, Me' Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World":

The story is so familiar; I probably don’t have to recount it. The scene is the grocery store. You’ve got your kids, a grocery list a mile long and dozens of other people who are just as desperate as you are to get home for dinner. Then the tantrum happens (you’re not going to buy the overpriced plastic dinosaur cup for three-year-old John that the store has so conveniently placed in the breakfast cereal aisle) and all of a sudden your challenge has gone from difficult to unbearable. Three looooonnnnggg minutes of intense negotiation later, John is still yelling, people are staring, you’re desperate — and before you know it, the dinosaur cup ends up in the cart (plus another one for his five-year-old sister) and your child is smiling happily (triumphantly even?) through his tears.

Toddler having a tantrum
"The great give-in is a problem that endures through all the ages and stages of childhood," parenting expert Amy McCready writes. "But it is a problem that can be solved."Shutterstock

It happens in the car, at home, in stores, at the park — you name it. It’s the great give-in, and it’s one of the biggest contributors to the entitlement epidemic. Desperate parents everywhere cave when their kids push them hard enough, teaching them all kinds of unhelpful lessons: for instance, that rules can be broken and that it’s perfectly acceptable to use bad behavior to accomplish a goal.

RELATED: Avoid raising an entitled child: 5 strategies that really work

The trouble is kids generally know exactly how hard they have to push — and which buttons — to get exactly what they want. They’re smart — don’t think for a minute that the wheedling, negotiating, pointed words and tears are pure emotion. They’re calculated, because when they tried these tactics the first time and we gave in, they learned that this type of behavior works, and they are more than happy to use wheedle, negotiate and whine again in the future. In fact, since John was rewarded for his bad behavior with a new dinosaur cup, you can bet he’ll set his sights on the "Cars" cereal bowl or something else next time.

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

This isn’t a problem that’s limited to toddlers throwing tantrums in the grocery store aisles, either. Older kids (and even adults) often expect to get their way if they simply whine enough. For instance, take 16-year-old Cadence, who is apparently the only girl in her group of friends without a designer handbag. You know that’s not true, but she nevertheless reminds you of this statistic every day. She whines (“All my friends think we’re poor!”), she complains (“I hate this old purse!”) and she negotiates (“But I got all A's and B's this semester!”) until finally, you wonder if you really are depriving your child. So you take her to the mall — just to look, of course. After all, maybe you can find a cheaper lookalike that will fit the bill. Cadence is all energy and enthusiasm — she knows just what stores she wants to visit, she can rattle off which of her friends got which bag where (or bangle or whatnot) and, of course, she has her hopes up. Soon her heart is set on a bag that costs more than your family’s monthly cell phone bill and the look in her eyes tells you she’s in it for the long haul. You are weary and annoyed but you also want Cadence to be happy. And to put an end to her wheedling. So you say the unthinkable: “I suppose ... you did get good grades this semester.” Cadence squeals, delighted. And you? You’re just trying to enjoy her good mood and wondering when the next major crisis will hit.

RELATED: 5 parenting styles that cause entitlement in kids — and how to change them

Yes, the great give-in is a problem that endures through all the ages and stages of childhood. But it is a problem that can be solved. And you’re certainly not the only one who gives in — the vast majority of parents report that when they just can’t take the whining anymore or when they just really need to get the groceries and get home, they hand over the forbidden fruit to their child. Read on to learn why you’re not alone if you’ve caved, and some tools you can use to put an end to the battles — and your own propensity to give in.

Excerpted from "The 'Me, Me, Me' Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World" by Amy McCready. © 2015 by Amy McCready. Jeremy P. Tarcher, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House.