Taking the 'Me, Me, Me' Attitude Out of Your Kids

PHOTO: A girl holds part of a teddy bear and screams in this stock photo.Getty Images
A girl holds part of a teddy bear and screams in this stock photo.

It probably shouldn't take a parenting expert to tell us that if a child's demands are constantly met, they will keep asking. And yet, parents everywhere seem to succumb to the ever-growing, often over-the-top demands of their kids and finding themselves feeling bad for it.

"The more we give in, the more we foster the entitlement attitude in our kids," said Amy McCready, author of the just-released book "The 'Me, Me, Me' Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World."

McCready, a "champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids," is also the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions.

"Remember," she said, "adults often feel just as entitled as children. When we accidentally forgot to pay a bill last month and the friendly person on the phone wouldn’t waive the late fee, we got mad -- he waived it last time. Or when we aren’t allowed to use an expired coupon, we feel upset -- it only expired yesterday, after all. It’s hard when we don’t get what we want."

The following eight steps are excerpted from her new book:

1. Start Small

Identify one common give-in that’s causing you stress. For instance, does your child dominate your iPad? Does your 4-year-old still expect to ride in a stroller through the mall? Does back-to-school clothes shopping dip into your holiday budget? Can you get through the grocery store without handing over a cookie? Pick one thing to start with.

2. Reveal the Rule

Let your child know about your new expectation. Say “You can use my iPad for fifteen minutes per day.” Or “You’re old enough now to make it through the store without a cookie. Cookies will be special treats at other times at home, but I’ll no longer give you one every time we go to the store.”

3. Stay Your Ground

Once you’ve put a rule in place, keep it firm. Loosen up only if the circumstances really are special -- for instance, you might allow your child extra TV time if she’s sick, but not simply because she’s whining extra loud or you have a to-do list a mile long.

4. Expect Pushback

Anticipate that your kids will continue to nudge any limits you set up until they leave the house (and even then), so you’ll need to stay on top of the game. (In fact, Pushing Limits is one of the tactics in the Entitled Kids Manual.) For example, the nightly bedtime battle: kids work every angle to put off going to bed so they can pretend to be a kitten for even five minutes more, or catch a few more sharks from the living-room couch. Same thing with curfew -- they’re happy to negotiate for 45 minutes to get an extra thirty out with their friends.

5. Allow Disappointment

Things happen. Life circumstances change. Previous indulgences become impossible. That’s okay. Say you’ve been able to treat the family to a trip to a water park three summers in a row -- but funds are short this year. There’s no need to dip into savings simply so they don’t have to face the disappointment of only getting to visit the neighborhood pool (even if they try to convince you otherwise). Your kids will survive, and even learn from the disappointment.

6. Be Honest

While you probably shouldn’t sit down with your kids and review the excruciating details of the family budget, for instance, it’s wise to let your kids know what’s going on, and in advance. You can say “Sorry, kids -- business hasn’t been great this year so we’ll have to skip the water park.” Or “I’m feeling so rushed in the mornings that I can’t manage to pack your lunch. You’re old enough to take on the job, and I’ll really appreciate your help.” You’ll appeal to your kids’ natural sense of empathy, and they’ll be less likely to pitch a fit if they have a better understanding of the situation.

7. Seek Input

Sometimes you can turn setbacks into a problem-solving opportunity that your kids can be a part of. For instance, gather everyone and tell them, “We’re all disappointed about the water park, but maybe we can all try to find some ways to save up so we can go next summer. Any ideas?” Or “Can anyone think of some ways we can streamline our morning routine so we don’t have problems getting out the door on time?” Your kids will probably jump at the chance to share their two cents, and it’ll give them something to do rather than push back.

8. Be the Model

This one should be obvious, but it isn’t always. Keep in mind that parents set the tone for the house -- and parents can be just as guilty as kiddos when it comes to complaining, whining, negotiating, pitching a fit and generally acting entitled in an attempt to get another person to cave. We don’t always know we’re doing it, and sometimes a little negotiation is completely justified -- even within earshot of your kids if you keep your tone respectful and use logic. But the more you can clean up your own communication, the better you’ll enable your kids to clean up theirs.