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. It seems everywhere one looks, there are preschoolers who only behave in the grocery store for a treat, narcissistic teenagers posting selfies across all forms of social media, and adult children living off their parents.
Parenting expert McCready reveals in this book that the solution is to help kids develop healthy attitudes in life. By setting up limits with consequences and training them in responsible behavior and decision making, parents can rid their homes of the entitlement epidemic and raise confident, resilient, and successful children. Whether parents are starting from scratch with a young toddler or navigating the teen years, they will find in this book proven strategies to effectively quell entitled attitudes in their children.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
What do we see when we look at our kids? We see an imagination capable of turning your great-grandmother’s delicate candlestick into a lightsaber to vanquish enemies from the living room. An energy that drags us on a wild-goose chase all over the house and yard looking for a minuscule ballet slipper charm. And a determination that pesters us for days to let them attend an out-of-state concert, and pay for it, too. And yet, beyond the chaos, the griping and the power struggles, we see potential. And that’s why I wrote this book. I know that inside each of our precious children is the potential for something amazing: a confident adult who has the drive and ability to make her corner of the planet a better place.
You’re reading this book—and I wrote it—because there’s a force that can rob from our kids not only their imagination, energy and determination, but also their ability to live rich, fulfilling lives. It’s the force of entitlement, the idea that life owes us something, and it’s wreaking havoc on our kids’ generation. Children of all ages feel entitled to receive the best of what life has to offer without working for it, to have their whims catered to by their parents and a path paved for success. They believe the world revolves around them—who wouldn’t, when everywhere you turn you see a selfie? Over-entitled kids become over-entitled adults 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 in the real world). What’s more, they’re just plain hard to live with!
But entitlement is not the end of your kids’ story. Imagine a home in which kids take responsibility, contribute to the family, work hard, give back, manage their own finances and feel grateful for what they have. These kids are happy and confident and will be well prepared for whatever adulthood has in store. This is the potential you see in your children—and this can be their future.
Whether you’re in the trenches of the entitlement epidemic, with kids who will barely lift their feet so you can vacuum under them, or trying to ward it off to begin with, I’m glad you’re reading this book. I’ve waded through the entitlement trenches with my own two sons and I know firsthand the challenges we parents face. And along the way, I’ve compiled thirty-five proven tools that really work to stop the entitlement train in its tracks. Your family can put an end to entitlement, too, no matter how many treats it currently takes for your kids to get through the store without pitching a fit. You can make a very real difference in a matter of days by applying even just a few of the tools and strategies you’ll find in these pages.
The Un-Entitler Toolbox strategies throughout this book will give you the confidence, know-how and even the words to say as you rid your home of the entitled behaviors that are not only driving you nuts but also giving you cause for concern about your offspring’s future. Misbehaviors and entitled attitudes (“I can have what I want when I want it!”) will melt away, as kids of all ages learn to pitch in around the house, solve their disagreements respectfully, take responsibility for their actions and even put down their smartphones once in a while. This dream is within your reach, and your kids will be better off for it.
The tools you use will bring out your kids’ very best behavior (no more chore wars, homework battles and sassy attitudes) and help them develop the responsibility, resilience and respectfulness they need for a successful adult life. You’ll do it all while you extinguish the entitlement epidemic and make your home a haven of peace in a world of entitled attitudes.
Let’s un-entitle our kids. Help them imagine new worlds (without expecting a team of workers to come in and build it for them), take on their own responsibility (without needing their hand held every step of the way) and put that determination to use serving others rather than expecting to be served. Then, and only then, will our kids unlock their potential to become their very best—without feeling entitled to it.
It’s the evening before Natasha’s high school graduation—and Natasha couldn’t be more miserable. She’s in her bedroom, crying tears of raw emotion over the fact that she’s out of her favorite hair gel. Her mother is too busy writing Natasha’s name in icing on six dozen cupcakes for her graduation party to rush out to the store tonight to get more. Her mom should have decorated them earlier! Still leaking tears, Natasha reenters the kitchen to let her mom know that she just has to have that special hair gel or her hair will be a huge frizzy mess and she’ll look like a total dork on her big day. After a few lame suggestions, her mom leaves the cupcakes and goes upstairs to try to squeeze out one last palmful of her own drugstore-brand styling gel and then puts away the mess of cosmetics Natasha has left out on the counter.
Natasha wanders off and texts her boyfriend to pick her up, but he’s busy with his friends. The jerk. He just saw his friends yesterday. Maybe she’ll threaten to dump him again—that’ll make him shape up. Sometimes she wonders why she even has a boyfriend. She finds her dad and remembers that she needs to ask him for extra money so she can buy a couple of new swimsuits and sandals for the season. He sees the evidence of her tears and forks over the cash. It’s not as much as she wanted, though, so he promises to put the rest on his credit card, which has been busy lately thanks to another recent purchase: a brand-new car as Natasha’s graduation present. It’s supposed to be a secret, but Natasha overheard her dad on the phone with the dealer earlier in the day. “It had better be a convertible,” she thinks.
Of course, Natasha is proud to be graduating tomorrow. After all, she managed to stay awake in most of her classes, thanks to her smartphone. Her homework took a lot of effort, but the tutor her parents hired for her was able to complete it just fine. Soon Natasha will be out in the real world, and when she wasn’t pitching a fit over having to empty the dishwasher and watch her little brother in the same afternoon, and for only $20, she was excited. Finally, she’d be an adult—able to party every night, not just Thursday through Saturday. Her parents have talked to her about enrolling in the community college and getting a job, but Natasha thinks a gap year is a good idea and no one is hiring where she wants to work. She actually inquired at both places—a clothing store and a makeup store—but her parents aren’t getting off her back. Natasha knows they’ll cool it in a week or two; it’s just this business about graduation that’s getting them all riled up.
Natasha sighs. If she can’t have her hair gel tonight, maybe she should work on her mom about letting her spend next weekend at Amber’s parents’ beach house. All her friends are going, and it wouldn’t be fair for Natasha not to go, too. Besides, Natasha is eighteen and done with school—it’s time for her to call the shots in her own life. And what a life it will be! If she could just get her boyfriend to pay attention to her, her parents to give her what she wants and a convertible, she’ll finally be happy. Look out world, here comes Natasha.
Look out world indeed. Natasha, in case you couldn’t guess, is a classic example of an entitled child. She lacks the ability to look beyond herself, delay gratification or work hard to achieve a goal. Nobody likes to see this in a child of any age, and it can be heartbreaking for parents when they realize their child is floundering when it’s time to leave the nest. And while Natasha probably doesn’t live at your house, some of this tale of the over-entitled may ring a little truer than you’d like. If so, you’re in good company. Most first-world parents struggle with some kind of entitlement issues among their kids.
While we might feel jealous of the kids who actually do get new cars for graduation—and a free ride in other areas of life, too—we can also feel sorry for them. If the free-car lifestyle pervades their schooling, work, relationships and leisure time, chances are they’ve rarely felt the thrill of accomplishment after giving it their best effort, the gratitude of a friend who received their much-needed help for nothing in return, the gratification of finally getting something they’ve been working or waiting for or the contentment that comes from being happy in the moment. Entitlement does more than drive parents crazy. It also robs kids of the ability to realize the best of what life has for them, while they instead chase impossible dreams.
Entitlement is certainly a big problem. In fact, it’s epidemic.
The Entitlement Epidemic
You couldn’t afford your own makeup this month because thirteen-year-old Johnny’s fluorescent orange must-have sneakers cost your entire discretionary budget. You keep a spare McDonald’s bag on hand so you can pretend to three-year-old Emma that her peanut-butter sandwich was made under the golden arches. And in order to get eight-year-old Daryl into bed, you have to let him fall asleep in front of the television, and carry him there.
Since when do parents jump through hoops at all costs to keep children happy? Since when do kids get to call the shots? The truth is kids everywhere—from toddlers to teens—are ruling the roost, and they’re not about to abandon their posts without a fight.
Entitlement happens in every family—including mine. Every one of us feels entitled to something on some level—whether it’s a stuffed animal we’ve slept with since birth, our smartphone or simply a good night’s sleep. These entitlements are all good things, and we might not be able to imagine life without them. If we think about them, we’re grateful for them—but there’s no question there are some things we take for granted. And our kids do, too.
Entitlement isn’t really a disease, but it has hit epidemic levels in our society. And it’s certainly not only rich kids who are afflicted. The entitlement problem spans classes and cultures. It’s also not only about stuff. Entitled kids believe the world revolves around them. They expect things to be done for them, a path to happiness cleared and smoothed, without putting in much effort themselves. They feel that something is wrong if they’re not happy. At any given minute they should be having the time of their lives because after all, you only live once.
How does the entitlement epidemic present in the typical household? Here are a few clues you might have an entitlement problem in your home:
• You find yourself exasperated at your children’s demands but caving anyway.
• You’re exhausted keeping up with the house, but everyone’s too busy watching TV to help.
• You can’t make it through the grocery store without buying a treat.
• You’re frequently supplementing your kids’ allowance.
• You take responsibility for your kids by doing things for them that you know they should be able to do for themselves.
• You resort to bribes or rewards to get cooperation from your kids.
• You frequently rescue your kids by driving forgotten items to school or reminding them about their deadlines.
• Your child frequently takes issue with rules and expectations at school or in activities.
• Your child is quick to blame others for anything that goes wrong.
• Your child tries to manipulate others to get his way.
• Your child commonly sulks or pitches a fit when she doesn’t get her way.
• Your child often complains of being bored and wants to be entertained by you.
• Your child finds it really difficult to wait patiently for something he wants.
Sound like a child you know? In truth, there’s not a kid alive who doesn’t exhibit some of these symptoms from time to time. Whether you’ve got a big entitlement outbreak at your house or only a minor case, you’ll soon be able to move your kids toward greater independence, responsibility and contentment.
So What’s the Big Deal?
Leon F. Seltzer, PhD, in an article for Psychology Today,* had this to say about entitlement: “Those ‘afflicted’ with a sense of entitlement demonstrate the attitude that whatever they want, they deserve—and automatically at that, simply because they are who they are. So anything they desire, whether material or relational, should be theirs. It’s inherently justified; there’s no need actually to earn it.” We all want what we want—and we want to have it now, please. In our culture of plenty, immediate gratification is very much a reality. We can make our dreams come true on multiple levels. But are we better off for it?
Dr. Seltzer says we’re not. Over-entitled people miss out on some of the best that life has to offer. When they’re not used to persevering through multiple frustrations, they won’t know the pride that comes from achieving hard-won, worthwhile goals. When they expect raises and other rewards simply because they want them and not because they’ve earned them, they’re set up for frequent disappointment. When they attempt to make others bend to their will because they expect to be served, their relationships will wither. And when all of these combine, we have created a person who will have trouble holding down a steady job, cultivating long-term relationships and completing any task worth completing. Because over-entitled people feel as though the world owes them the best it has to offer, they will completely miss out on just that.
But entitlement doesn’t happen out of the blue. The problem begins when entitlement becomes a way of life for children. In these cases, kids rule the roost. Mom and Dad rush around trying to meet endless demands, whether that means making meat loaf three different ways to cater to discriminating appetites, rushing to the store because the six-year-old is out of her favorite toothpaste or shelling out hundreds of dollars so the fourteen-year-old can look like a minirockstar. While parents attempt to give their kids every advantage in life, kids learn that they shouldn’t have to do anything they don’t want to, they can have everything that catches their eye and they can quit whenever they want. It ends up that no one’s happy—parents are run ragged, while kids constantly find they need more, more, more! And benevolent rulers kids are not. They quickly learn to resort to whining, demanding and downright bullying to get what they want.
Entitlement doesn’t just plague our homes: it affects kids’ schoolwork, activities and friendships, too. Youngsters expect that their C effort will get A grades or that just showing up to practice will get them a starting spot on the basketball team. Friendships are self-centered, as entitled kids lack the ability to empathize and sacrifice. When problems arise, in school and beyond, anything from the weather to an unsuspecting younger sibling is always to blame. Or perhaps the test was too hard, or it was an off day or “the boss doesn’t like me.” Possibly, in fact, “it’s just not fair!!” Clearly, entitlement is a far-reaching problem with a lifetime of effects.
Overparented, Over-Entitled Kids
But why are we plagued with the entitlement bug—a veritable disease that affected only royalty in the past? It’s certainly not genetic—we’re not hardwired to need a new car when we turn sixteen or a balloon every time we get through the grocery store without throwing a tantrum. So why has entitlement hit epidemic levels over the past three decades?
Some key influences on our culture have given rise to the feeling that “it’s all about me” in the millennial (born after 1980) generation. But that’s not where it started—or even where it ended. Here’s the big picture.
I’M SPECIAL, YOU’RE SPECIAL, WE’RE ALL SPECIAL
In 1969, the self-esteem movement kicked off with a publication by Dr. Nathaniel Branden called The Psychology of Self-Esteem. It told parents, caregivers and society as a whole that self-esteem was of paramount importance for each person, and in so doing, created a cultural revolution.
With this movement, as Po Bronson, author of the New York Magazine article “How Not to Talk to Your Kids,” points out, every child was assured that she was special. Competitions awarded each participant a prize—not just the winners (because aren’t we all winners?)—while grading systems rewarded even the faultiest work and the use of criticism in the workplace was, well, criticized. Children grew up with lavish praise for everything they did, becoming praise junkies who learned to demand acknowledgment or rewards for completing mundane or expected tasks—even once they were all grown up.
Today, these young adults want to be praised, reviewed and patted on the back simply for dressing business casual. Employers struggle to motivate this generation of employees who need frequent feedback and constant attention to know they are doing okay.
Certainly, some of the changes to the way children are viewed and treated are positive: we can be certain no teacher will be taking a ruler to our kids’ knuckles, for instance, but the fact remains that the everyone-is-special mind-set does more harm than good, and the effects are lasting. In fact, Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist and a professor at San Diego State University, has shown that teens and young adults are more self-absorbed than they used to be. She’s found that college students score higher on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory now than in 1979, that more of them consider themselves above average and that they show a weaker work ethic. The effect has even leached into their writing style: first-person singular pronouns (I, me, my) are showing up more often—a clear indicator of the me generation.*
The Overparenting Problem
With self-esteem on everyone’s minds, the baby boomer generation gave rise to kid-centered families—and for the first time in history, soccer practice, ballet and playgroup were put on the calendar ahead of garden club or the softball team at work. And isn’t it wonderful that parents should be so involved in their kids’ lives?
It is—until they overparent their kids. It’s natural that parents want the best for their children and try to provide it. The trouble is, when we try to hand our kids the world on a silver platter, we unwittingly create an entitlement problem.
For instance, many involved and concerned moms and dads become lawn-mower parents, overprotecting kids by mowing down all the obstacles youngsters commonly face, from the crabby kindergarten teacher to the drama teacher who has cast their child only in minor roles for the past three plays. Or worse, the boss at the fast-food restaurant who reprimanded their child for showing up late to work three days in a row. Not only do parents center their lives on their kids, they also do their best to make sure the youngsters never face difficulties, mowing a smooth path for them far into their adult lives. Overprotected kids soon learn that life should be a piece of cake—and if it’s not, someone else should have to deal with it. It must be nice to live inside that bubble, but it certainly can’t last.
We also overindulge kids by never saying never. Wouldn’t we all rather say yes to our kids than no, and face happy smiles rather than a screaming fit? Of course. But the truth is parents are often scared of the “n-o” word and don’t use it often enough. We give them whatever they want, when they want it, and slip into the trap of becoming their personal servants, because, frankly, it’s easier that way. Our kids get used to having all their demands met, throwing even bigger fits if they are confronted with a negative, and the problem spirals out of control.
And then there’s the problem of overpraising. Kids get a sucker for standing in line for three minutes at the bank, prizes for sitting quietly at a desk at school, money for good grades and a cookie to make it through the grocery store without a tantrum. We spout “Great job!” “You’re so cute!” and “You’re so smart!” to make our kids feel good over the most mundane tasks. They grow up hearing us sing their praises for unextraordinary behavior, and soon won’t exhibit good behavior, a strong work ethic or a helpful spirit without promise of a reward or accolades.
We certainly overparent with the best of intentions, but that doesn’t change the fact that this parenting style paves the way for our kids to catch the entitlement bug. We don’t have to play victim to it, however: as you’ll see throughout this book, we have the means to cure our kids for good.
Why Social Media Is Antisocial
As the twenty-first century dawned, so did connected communication, and it wasn’t long before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networking sites began to allow kids the unlimited ability to promote themselves. As if teens needed any more impetus to obsess over their own self-images! Posting photos, tweeting and updating the world on everything from what they ate for breakfast to their turbulent feelings toward younger siblings reinforces the mind-set that “it’s all about me” and “you only live once.” And since all their connected friends agree with them, there’s virtually no reason for them to see the world with any different perspective—especially one that places value on hard work and responsibility.
No wonder teens can hardly be convinced to pick up a vacuum cleaner. Not only would this task not look good on Instagram, but it would also go against the kingdom of one they’ve built for themselves.
And let’s face it—we adults don’t always set the best example here. When we post photos as readily as our fifteen-year-old and check our smartphones under the dinner table, we model the it’s-really-all-about-me attitude we’re trying to change in our kids. Our instant messaging sends a message to our kids that the virtual world has the final word in our family.
The result is pervasive damage to the work ethic, relationships and self-image. Not only do kids see the Kardashians and their type everywhere, but they also do their best to measure up with the help of social media. With the Kardashians and the Rich Kids of Instagram as a standard, who wouldn’t feel entitled to the best of everything life has to offer?
We’ll talk about each of these concepts more later in the book, but for now, I hope to make clear that we’re facing an uphill battle when it comes to un-entitling our kids. But it’s certainly not impossible, especially when we start in our own homes.
Three Hots and a Cot
All this begs the question: what, exactly, are kids entitled to? Parenting educator and emergency room physician Leslie Marshall uses the army phrase “three hots and a cot” to remind us that in addition to a loving family, kids need the basics—food, shelter, clothing, safety, medical care. But talk about wiggle room! For instance, nine-year-old Jack probably doesn’t actually need the $50 bike helmet with monster horns on it when one at half the cost is cool enough and will keep his head intact. Four-year-old Abby certainly should be able to get her feet into her everyday shoes without needing your help, but might require a helping hand for snow boots. And seventeen-year-old Dayton really can share a room with his little brother, even if the little brother occasionally talks to himself in the middle of the night.
How can you tell whether you’re playing fair or being played? We’ll revisit this in chapter 2, but for now it’s enough to know that if you feel manipulated, annoyed or that something’s not right, you’re probably correct. You need to let your kids know to adjust their expectations.
Almost as crucial as access to clean water and a roof over their heads is the satisfaction of two psychological needs that are fundamental to the efficacy of all the tools in this book. Unlike entitlement, these needs are hardwired from birth.
To more fully understand what your child truly needs on a psychological level, let’s take a look at what’s going on in their minds (other than “How can I sneak some candy when Mom’s not looking?”).
Over one hundred years ago, kids were to be seen and not heard. Many worked their childhoods away in factories or on farms and were not typically treated with respect. But all that began to change when psychologist and medical doctor Alfred Adler asserted that all people, including children, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The notion of respect and the idea that children are social beings who behave according to how others perceive them and react to them became the foundation for much of Adler’s work. Three Adlerian principles have informed this book, and they are:
PREMISE 1: A CHILD’S PRIMARY GOAL IS TO ACHIEVE BELONGING AND SIGNIFICANCE
These are the two most basic human psychological needs and they’re built-in, present from birth. A sense of belonging is achieved when a child feels emotionally connected to other family members. He knows his place in his family and how he fits in. A sense of significance comes from feeling capable, being able to make meaningful contributions to his family and having a sense of personal power—some level of influence or control over what happens to him. In fact, everyone has a basic need for power, and if we don’t get it in positive ways, we will resort to negative actions.
PREMISE 2: ALL BEHAVIOR IS GOAL-ORIENTED
When kids act up, they’re doing more than pitching a fit over a candy bar (or permission to go to a party). Without even knowing it, they’re on a mission to achieve the belonging and significance they crave. If they don’t receive belonging and significance in a positive way, they’ll resort to negative means. Misbehavior is always a symptom of a deeper issue, and by addressing the underlying issue, we can cut back on a lot of the bad deeds.
PREMISE 3: A MISBEHAVING CHILD IS A DISCOURAGED CHILD
Your child’s misbehavior speaks volumes. On a subconscious level, the whining is a plea for “pay attention to me, I want to belong,” and the tantrums mean “I’m lashing out because I feel powerless and need you to help.” (They also want the candy bar, but they’re a lot more likely to take no for an answer if their psychological needs for belonging and significance are met.) Kids don’t actually want to misbehave; they simply see it as the only alternative to achieve their emotional needs—even if the attention and power they get from the behavior are negative.
Understanding your child’s need for belonging and significance is so important to curing the entitlement epidemic with your kids. Here’s the summary:
• Your child’s need for belonging and significance is built-in. There’s nothing you can do to change that: belonging and significance are things your kids are actually entitled to—unlike a ride to a rock concert in another state. You can either work with your child’s psychological needs to empower them in positive ways or against them. I know which I’d rather do, and thousands of parents worldwide agree when they see the results.
• A sense of belonging comes from plenty of positive attention from the people who are most important to them. With this, kids will feel emotionally connected to you and confident about how they fit in with the family unit. Without it, they’ll resort to whining, acting helpless, nagging and interrupting to get attention and feel included any way they can. A sense of significance for your kids comes from feeling like they have some control over their own lives and the ability to make meaningful contributions. If they don’t feel this way, they’ll battle you on every decision, throw tantrums when they’re not happy, ignore your requests altogether and talk back to try to feel like they have some power over you.
• You can’t just fill your child’s attention basket or power basket once—you need to replenish it daily, and more for a younger child. Each of the tools in this book will help you do that.
When your kids feel strong senses of belonging and significance, their need to act out to achieve them in errant ways, like whining or battling, plummets. Remember that your child has no idea that her misbehavior is linked to her need for belonging and significance, or even that these needs exist, so it’s up to you to help her achieve them in positive ways, preventing bad behavior from happening in the first place. The tools in this book will help you do just that in addition to un-entitling your kids—and as you use them, you’ll start to see a huge decrease in misbehavior.
What else is your child entitled to? A Band-Aid when he scrapes his knee—but it shouldn’t have to have Buzz Lightyear on it. A timely drink when she’s thirsty—a drinking fountain will do, though, rather than a rainbow slushy with sprinkles from the food court. A story at bedtime as part of your routine—but not half a dozen and three extra songs. A ride to the neighbor’s house when the wind chill is below zero—but not when it’s seventy degrees and sunny. And while this book isn’t about nit-picking what’s reasonable or not, we’ll help you set the limits that are right for your family—and not get played.
Punishment, Discipline: What Works, What Doesn’t
While this book is about helping your kids live lives free of entitlement, it’s not a book of punishment or tricks to get your kids to behave. Chances are you’ve tried those, and they haven’t worked. Take a classic example:
It’s six thirty on a school night during a busy week. You and your kids have grabbed fast food at a restaurant for dinner before making one more stop and heading home. As you dig into your sandwiches, five-year-old Erica launches into a series of unfortunate events. She interrupts every ten seconds, sings loud enough for everyone to hear, comments on how your fish sandwich “stinks like it came from the toilet” and won’t stop kicking her brothers under the table. And if that’s not enough, she wants an ice-cream cone for dessert—and to cop an attitude at the same time. You don’t know where, exactly, she learned to call you the worst parent in the entire history of the planet, but once you said no to the ice cream, she started broadcasting the notion throughout the restaurant, complete with dramatic tears. The girl has a certain flair for drama, but you wish she’d save it for theater class rather than perform a tragedy at a fast-food restaurant.
You’re desperate to leave and you give her to the count of three to put on her coat—but you’ve made it to three and a half and she’s no closer to doing as you say. You tell her she’s lost TV for a week, but she ignores you. You try to drag her away for a time-out, but she digs in her heels. Now even the guy making fries is watching to see what the “most horrible parent ever” is going to do with the screaming girl—and you realize you are out of patience and options. You just want to finish your errands and go home—so you give in and then slink out of the restaurant, ice cream in hand, feeling lower than the mice you know must gather near the Dumpster in the parking lot every night.
What happened? Why does your little girl choose the worst times to act out? Why won’t she listen?
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
The problem isn’t totally her, and it’s not completely you, either. In fact, it stems from the fact that while parenting standbys like punishment, time-outs and counting 1-2-3 may have worked once, they’ve lost their impact. What’s more, while twenty years ago your parents could give you a look and you’d snap to attention, society has changed so that people—and kids—don’t blindly obey anymore. And that’s a good thing—I don’t think any of us would want a return to the days when husbands would command that dinner be on the table by six o’clock, or principals could apply corporal punishment to kids.
Aside from outdated discipline techniques, there’s also the fact that after a long day at school and of running errands, Erica’s feelings of belonging and significance are at an all-time low. While on the outside she’s telling the table what your fish sandwich smells like, on the inside she’s practically screaming “I desperately need positive attention from you, but I haven’t had that all day so I’ll settle for any kind of attention I can get!” There’s no excuse for bad behavior, but we have to admit nobody’s at their best after a marathon of checkout lines.
That’s not to say we can let our kids run rampant all over us as a lot of entitled kids do. But we do have to change tactics, which is what this book is all about.
In Erica’s story, in addition to bad behavior, we also see some truly entitled behaviors. She felt entitled to being the center of attention and to the ice cream—and in fact, she wasn’t going to give up without more of a fight than her tired mom could handle. Chances are Erica was used to getting her way and knew just how far she could push her parent. Even though Erica’s mom probably had used punishment, time-outs and counting 1-2-3 in the past, the fatal flaw of these techniques is that they did nothing to address the root of the misbehavior. Erica had learned nothing from past incidents of having TV taken away, standing in a corner or hearing her mom drag out “two and a haaaaalllfff . . . ,” especially since if Erica’s mom is like most parents in a similar situation, Erica managed to get her way a good portion of the time.
And when Erica’s mom held her ground and resorted to punishment for Erica’s misbehavior, she unknowingly contributed to the problem. Punishment actually drives kids to think about how to get back at Mom or Dad instead of correct their behavior. What’s more, it forces kids to operate out of fear of punishment rather than out of the desire to do right, and it teaches them nothing, other than to simply try harder not to get caught next time.
If we apply positive strategies and correctly use consequences, however, not only do we build up plenty of misbehavior-preventing belonging and significance, we also partner with our kids to help them learn what to do instead in the future for a happier outcome—the astonishing result is that they actually want to behave better. We’ll cover consequences later in the book, as well as plenty of preventive measures. This, by the way, is called “discipline,” a word that often gets misused among parents. “Discipline” comes from the Latin “discipulus,” which means student, one who is learning or a willing convert. There’s no mention whatsoever of grounding your kids for an entire year or spanking them. We do need to train our kids in everything they need to know for a responsible, independent and effective adulthood, but there are plenty of positive ways to do that without any of the negative and ineffective repercussions of punishment, yelling, counting 1-2-3 and all the rest.
I keep mentioning positive, effective tools and strategies. They come from what I call the Un-Entitler Toolbox—my collection of parenting tools based on the fundamentals of Adlerian psychology, the work of Rudolf Dreikurs, MD, who further developed Adlerian child-rearing principles and of Positive Discipline, based on the groundbreaking training and books from Jane Nelsen, EdD. H. Stephen Glenn, creator of the Developing Capable Young People curriculum, also inspired some of the tools in this book.
Remember the Adlerian principles of needing to belong and feel significant? The Un-Entitler Toolbox strategies are what you’ll use to make sure your child gets plenty of each every day, thus preventing lots of errant actions and entitlement-based misbehaviors. Each tool provides a helping of belonging or significance (or both), and each helps address and ward off entitlement outbreaks, as well as a wide variety of downright bad behavior. I’ll outline thirty-five tools throughout this book, with the words to say and helpful tips so that you put them to work right away.
The first un-entitling tool, Mind, Body and Soul Time, is my personal favorite, and the most effective. The tool gives your child a hefty dose of both belonging and significance and builds your relationship, too. Once you start to put it into use—and stick to it—you’ll begin to see your kids’ behavior problems melt away.
Un-Entitler: Mind, Body and Soul Time (MBST)
Mind, Body and Soul Time is the single most important tool in the Un-Entitler Toolbox, and it will serve Erica’s mom well down the road as she addresses her daughter’s negative attention-seeking misbehavior. This tool entitles children to their primary emotional needs—belonging and significance. It also prevents attention- and power-seeking behaviors like whining, acting helpless, throwing tantrums, fighting with siblings, staging bedtime battles and more.
You may have noticed that your child feels entitled to your mind share during all of your waking hours—and if she’s not getting your attention, she’ll find a way to turn all eyes on her. In fact, parents often tell me that no matter how much attention they give their child, it’s never enough. Your young one continually feels entitled to attention for her every whim, even if the parent is on the phone, mowing the lawn, taking a relaxing bath or simply trying to get a good night of sleep. Mind, Body and Soul Time effectively un-entitles the child from this mistaken belief by providing her with plenty of positive attention in advance, so you can expect your child to be able to wait for your attention at other times. With this tool, you’ll be regularly filling your child’s attention and power baskets, so she has no reason to act out to get what she needs. You’re preventing bad behavior from happening in the first place. What’s more, with this tool in daily use, you can feel confident and guilt-free using the other tools to put an end to all those annoying misbehaviors.
PUT IT TO USE
To use Mind, Body and Soul Time, each parent sets aside ten minutes, once or twice a day, to spend with each child. During that ten minutes, you’ll ignore other distractions, be fully present in mind, body and soul and do whatever your child loves to do. Will you be painting toenails with your twelve-year-old, or pretending to be an airplane with your preschooler? Either way, your child calls the shots, within reason, for ten minutes.
This tool offers a big boost not only to your child’s sense of belonging as you fill her attention basket but also to her significance and personal power, since the child makes the decisions on what activity you’ll do or what you’ll play with. When you take the time each day to emotionally connect with your child and get into his world, communication improves. Even your teens are more likely to open up if you’re willing to listen to their music once in a while or play their favorite game—and doing so builds a relationship that will last a lifetime.
Most important, by giving kids what they are entitled to—your unconditional love and some undivided time and attention each day—you’ll feel confident not giving in to demands for things they are not entitled to.
As good as that sounds, many parents wonder “How can I possibly find ten or twenty minutes in my already-too-busy day to spend with each child?” In truth, this tool is going to save you time. As you consistently implement Mind, Body and Soul Time, you’ll spend less time fussing about negative attention- and power-seeking behaviors and your kids will be more cooperative when you ask them to help out with family tasks. You’ll have more time on your hands and enjoy parenting a lot more.
Mind, Body and Soul Time isn’t magic—but it sure works miracles for families across the globe. If you haven’t read my previous book, If I Have to Tell You One More Time . . . , you may be skeptical that this tool will pack much of a punch in improving behavior. This is one time I’m going to ask you to suspend disbelief and trust me. Parents who consistently use this tool describe it as the magic bullet or game changer. It really works—but only if you give it a try. Read on for tips that will ensure you enjoy great success from this tool.
Tips and Scripts
• Identify ten to fifteen minutes during your daily routine when you can realistically and consistently spend one-on-one time with each of your kids.
• For young children, you’ll see even better results if you can do MBST two times per day, as they need their attention basket filled regularly.
• Turn off all distractions: no phones, TVs, computer, etc.
• Give your MBST a name. Call it what you want as a family—Jason and Daddy Time, Together Time—just make sure you’re 110 percent present in mind, body and soul during your special time.
• Be creative. There’s no reason MBST has to happen only at home or only in your family room. Turn travel time in the car into MBST by simply switching off the radio and letting your child tell you about her day (or the supercool underwater rocket she’s inventing). Jog along with her as she’s training for the cross-country meet. Or play with your child as she takes her bath, wake her up a few minutes early every day for an impromptu pillow fight or find a little extra time for reading together at bedtime.
• When you begin, be sure the activity can be completed, or reach a good stopping point, within ten minutes. If you have more time, great! But it becomes a form of entitlement for your child to insist on playing an entire game of Clue, or building all of Saint Basil’s Cathedral out of Legos before he will let you be done.
• If you find your child has trouble settling on an activity, work with her to make a list of activities you can do or ways to play in ten minutes and hang the list on the refrigerator.
• Make sure you get credit for the MBST you spend with each child. End your time together by labeling it and saying “I really enjoyed our special time together! I can’t wait to paint more dinosaurs with you tomorrow!” That reminds your child that you filled her attention and power buckets and that you enjoyed spending time with her!
• For young kids, set a timer to let them know when MBST is over. If it’s a tough transition, have an activity in mind for them to pick up afterward.
In the midst of our busy, media-saturated, overscheduled lives, taking time to really know someone is the ultimate act of love.
—Rachel Macy Stafford, author of Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!
YES, BUT . . .
I still can’t find the time.
It can be tough at first to carve out the time, but you’ll soon find it’s well worth your effort. Cut back on things that don’t matter as much—leave the laundry or e-mails for later or spend a little less time on Pinterest. Build your MBST with each child into your routine so you’re not as likely to put it off. Better yet, if you put your family MBST schedule on the refrigerator, it will hold you all accountable. View MBST like a nonnegotiable business meeting. If you have to miss it, let your kids know in advance and reschedule with them at that time.
If it helps to ease into MBST, try starting with ten minutes once a day and work up to twice a day if that’s doable for your family. Be sure to fully engage during that ten minutes, and chances are you’ll see so much improvement in your child’s behavior that the time will open up for you.
And remember that it’s okay to do MBST in a variety of situations and at different times—the important thing is to connect on your child’s level and have fun!
I have a large family.
If it’s impossible to spend MBST with each child every day, schedule it several times during the week on a calendar everyone can see. In large families especially, it’s easy for kids to feel like they aren’t getting sufficient one-on-one time with Mom and/or Dad, so it’s extra important to make time for each of them.
The siblings always want to join in or my kids interrupt each other’s time for emergencies.
Whether your kids genuinely enjoy spending time together or are simply trying to get extra attention, it’s paramount that MBST is spent one-on-one. Kids need time when they don’t have to compete for their parents’ notice and when they can be themselves. Although screen time should be limited, this is one time you might want to consider letting younger siblings watch approved programming while they wait for their turn for MBST. Also, scheduling MBST as part of the routine will help—once your kids get used to the rules, they’re more likely to stick to them.
To minimize interruptions, work with your kids to establish MBST ground rules. For example, it’s not okay to interrupt your sibling’s MBST except for true emergencies. (A nosebleed may be an emergency, but not being able to find the sock puppet you made in art class last week is not.) And if you interrupt your siblings’ MBST, you’ll lose a few minutes of your time. Schedule your primary interrupter last so he’s less likely to butt in on his siblings and therefore lose out on a few minutes of playing superheroes with Dad. Keep in mind, however, that if a child frequently interrupts, there’s likely something else at play and you’ll need to use a different tool to address the issue. Losing out on too much MBST will only make the problem worse. One possible solution to ward off interruptions in the first place is to place a pad of paper in the kitchen or family room so kids can write or draw what they want to tell you so they don’t forget.
I travel for work and am only home on weekends.
In addition to touching base with each child long-distance every day, if possible, you’ll want to schedule extra time for them when you are home—a bike ride or a game of Monopoly, for instance. Make sure the time is spent one-on-one, as kids really thrive from the personal attention without siblings around.
How do I handle discipline problems during or before MBST?
It’s unlikely you’ll experience too many discipline problems during MBST, especially once you get going. If you do, simply use the positive strategies found in the rest of this book to correct misbehavior and keep going with MBST. And if seven-year-old Clayton commonly has problems not jumping on the sofa while blasting off his space rockets, suggest a list of alternate activities he can choose from.
Can I take MBST away as a punishment?
Please don’t! Kids need daily attention from each parent. If you take it away, your child will be lacking in belonging and significance, and attention- and power-seeking behaviors will likely escalate. The one exception to this rule is that you may deduct time from MBST for a child who is disrupting a sibling’s MBST. This usually corrects the problem quickly, but if the behavior continues, you’ll want to try a different technique or switch up your MBST routine so that no child is deprived of MBST for more than a day. You’ll find plenty of other proven methods to address discipline issues throughout this book.
My teen thinks MBST is stupid.
Chances are, your teenager needs time to get used to the idea—and to learn to trust you not to simply use it as an excuse to pry into her life (although certainly you’d be open to hearing about what really happened at the homecoming dance if she’d like to share). Stick with it even if it feels strange at first for both of you and be creative about the activities you might suggest. Maybe cooking a new recipe together, helping her practice her backhand or letting her teach you how to edit photos online will help her start to relax and have fun. Just be sure to not interrogate her about her new boyfriend, what Krista’s parents let her do during spring break or anything else during your time together. No matter how tempted you are.
And if it’s the only way to get started, it’s okay to tune in to technology with your teens. Just aim to do something active like play a video game or listen to music rather than staring blankly at the tube. Even if you’re not particularly adept at shooting down aliens, your child will be thrilled that you took the time to (try to) learn.
My child uses all her MBST trying to decide what to do.
Sit down with your child and make a list of fun ten-minute activities. Pull it out and refer to it when you need to. If you know your child usually has trouble deciding, you can also plan an activity in advance by noticing what your child’s playing with or working on during the day. Say “You’re building quite the train track—is that something you’d like to do during our Mind, Body and Soul Time later today?” Let her change her mind if she wants to, but at least you’ll have a place to start.
Should both parents do Mind, Body and Soul Time?
Yes, your kids need one-on-one attention from both parents. If there are two parents in the home, both should find time every day to fill each child’s attention basket. If your spouse isn’t totally on board yet, don’t worry. As your partner starts noticing the great results you get with Mind, Body and Soul Time, he or she will likely want to join in.
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.
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.
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.
Table of Contents
1 Kids Rule. But Should They? 1
2 The Great Give-In 25
3 They're Not Helpless 59
4 Overcontrol 97
5 Creating a Consequential Environment 137
6 Great Reasonable Expectations 179
7 The Praise Problem 208
8 Money and Sense 230
9 Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Joneses and Facebook 256
10 Un-Centering Their Universe 278
11 It's Okay Not to Be Special 304
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Amy McCready:
"She always has helpful solutions. A lot of people talk about parenting; she shows up and actually gives us great advice!"
—Kathie Lee Gifford, host of NBC's TODAY Show
"Having been a parent a long time, listening to Amy, she is dead on!"
Praise for If I Have To Tell You One More Time...:
“A must read! If I Have to Tell You One More Time delivers practical, step-by-step tools for well-behaved kids and happy families.”
—Dr. Michele Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions and TODAY Show contributor
“I’ve always said that if parents do their job right, they eventually work themselves out of a job. Finally: the tools we all need to achieve ‘parental unemployment.’ And best of all, you never have to get mad.”
—Wendy L. Walsh, Ph.D., human behavior expert on CNN, cohost of The Doctors, and mother of two
“Packed with clear direction—including really practical tips and simple strategies—for how to put an end to whining, tantrums, battles, and all the rest, this book will be a giant relief for parents who want to bring out the best in their kids.”
—Dr. Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness
“Spoken like a real mom. This revolutionary program will help any parent address any problem . . . with calm.”
—Hal E. Runkel, author of ScreamFree Parenting