With only a few items on the list, my son and I walked into the store on a mission. Before long, he spotted the toy aisles and immediately petitioned for a new LEGO set in a whiny voice. I instinctively wondered why he assumed every trip to the store meant a new toy for him. After a final no, he shuffled away with tantrum tears. I wracked my brain at how to address the entitlement so evident in his heart.
Admittedly, our “buy now” culture has fed our desires at the click of a button before we assess need, and our children know it. However, raising entitled children isn’t inevitable. Here are 5 practices parents can implement to avoid enabling entitlement in the hearts of their children.
Assess our own hearts first.
Just like my wandering eyes in the store, I am acutely aware of my own entitled longings. It’s easy to believe that after a long day, I deserve a clean house, this new outfit, or that Starbucks drink. After all, everyone else goes on a family trip every year, so should we. And the expectations build and grow.
Before long, we have overspent money rationalizing how much we deserve without giving a thought to necessity or affordability. What are we teaching our own children by trying to keep up with those around us? When we seek to reward ourselves for what we feel is rightly deserved, I wonder what we communicate to our children. So, as difficult as it may be, let us assess and identify the areas of entitlement in our own hearts first.
Create a family culture of generosity.
If the antithesis of selfishness is generosity, then one of the most effective ways to address entitlement is by creating a culture of generosity in our homes. What does that mean? First and foremost, it means having eyes that see others as important as ourselves.
For many, this does not come naturally, so we must seek out opportunities to serve and give to others. Having an “others first” mentality will cost something. Many times, it costs our time and energy, but it may also require a sacrifice of comfort and convenience.
Here are some ideas:
● When a need arises around you, include your children. Have them help with the preparation of a meal or make a homemade card for the family in need.
● When there is an opportunity to host friends, speak the language of generosity to help shape their heart. Hospitality is more than simply sharing. It is thinking of others’ needs over our own.
● Around the holidays, consider adopting a family to provide gifts or groceries for, filling a shoebox for another child with toys your child picks out, or making a treat for a neighbor.
All of these help our children’s eyes awaken to other’s needs before their own and will provide sweet memories for you as a family.
Remember “no” communicates love.
Hebrews 2:5-6 says, “So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects.”
Just as our own hearts push back against the loving discipline of our Heavenly Father, we can expect pushback from our earthly children when we tell them no. We throw tantrums when life doesn’t go our way, but if we trust that God is for our ultimate good, then we can trust His “no” as much as His “yes.”
So, as parents who love our children deeply, we must not be afraid of saying no. Helping your children accept the gift of delayed gratification and understanding the difference between “no” and “not right now” will serve them for a lifetime. It’s okay if they don’t buy their favorite shirt today, need to wait for a birthday, or forego it altogether. It’s okay if they are the “only ones.”
The older children grow, the more we need them to trust that our ‘no’ is for their good. Start now, and remember your “no” communicates love just like our Heavenly Father.
View all resources as gifts.
One of the pillars in biblical stewardship is learning to view our resources as gifts stewarded for others, not possessions used solely for our own purposes. If we can help our children view what they have as a gift, then it lessens the grip entitlement has on their hearts.
James 1:17 reminds us that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” We also know that it is by “grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV).
We see in this passage that the ultimate gift of salvation is offered regardless of merit, so perhaps we can help our children view their possessions as undeserved gifts to be used for more than themselves. When our children feel they deserve a privilege consistently based upon their own merit or entitlement, we cheapen the gift itself.
Encourage your children to be contributors.
With busy schedules and competing demands, it’s easy to view parenting simply as what we do for our children. We all desire to do as much as possible for them. With that posture, however, we forget that our children are contributing members of the family, not merely consumers.
In that light, consider the following ways to encourage their contributions in your home:
● Establish a chore chart that doesn’t receive an allowance. These are items like putting the dishes away, tidying up around the house, and helping with laundry because this is what it means to be a member of the family.
● Start a “Family Jar” and put a pom pom or coin in it every time you notice them doing something to contribute to the family. Then celebrate together when it’s filled.
● Find ways they can work to earn an allowance and let them help with purchases or activities.
Anytime we are training the hearts of our children, it is worthwhile and requires patience. Yet it is imperative that we avoid enabling entitlement for a few important reasons:
● It allows their hearts to develop a need for Christ to satisfy their deepest longings,
● It reminds them that their full reward will not be experienced in the here and now, and
● It ushers their hearts to maintain a posture of gratitude in all seasons.
And I wonder if, along the way, our hearts might be changed as well.