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Combating Entitlement: Raising Grateful Kids in the Age of Instant Gratification

Photography: Lindsey Tatum Photography

Sometimes my kids tend to behave like entitled jerks. They get stuck in this mindset that things are owed to them, or that they deserve special privileges just because. For example, during our summer trip to Hawaii (which was in fact the third time my kids had been) they mistakenly thought that they should receive everything their hearts desired. I’m guilty of it too, those first few days on vacation I tend to go a little overboard (especially with the shave ice).  It’s a challenge, because vacation is a chance to indulge and relax, but that is not an excuse for poor behavior and my husband and I were not gonna have it. We realized quickly that we needed to reset their expectations and review the behavior that we needed to see in order to have a successful vacation together.

In general we try really hard to raise good kids who are grateful for all that they have and continue to receive but it’s challenging in the world of instant-gratification. We certainly don’t have money to waste on a two teacher income, but we do enjoy family outings and events and our money tends to go towards experiences over things. And to be fair, our kids are clear on this, and they can be pretty great humans sometimes too, but like most kids, they tend to want more than they give.

Below are some practical ways to combat this sense of entitlement, whether you are on vacation or not. Likewise, these tips are lifelong skills that can help kids grow into thankful, hard-working, polite adults, which is the ultimate goal, right? Here are six tips that help us get our kids back on track when they start to drift to the dark side.

1. Hold them Accountable

Kids need to practice taking responsibility for their actions. This can be as simple as expressing an apology, admitting a mistake, or following through with an agreement. This is important because it helps them to see that their actions affect others around them. It also reminds them that there are consequences for their actions.

2. Put them to Work

Establish age appropriate chores. My kids have set chores that they complete year round, rain or shine. The only thing that gets them off the hook is sickness. Sometimes my 12 year old will be emptying the dishwasher at 9pm after a long day of school and sports, but it’s important that he contributes to the household.

3. Teach them Money Smarts

We opted to set up saving accounts for our kids when they were very young. Monetary gifts from friends or family went straight into these accounts. For the most part, we try to make our kids use their own money for their purchases. Their vacation money came from our garage sale split three ways. They also earn small amounts of money for good grades. Spending limitations help them see the value of money and how much things really cost.

4. Make them use Manners

Please and thank you go a long way. We often ask our kids to rephrase their requests when one of these goes missing (which happens a lot) ! Empathy is something that needs to be modeled often and we can all use more practice seeing and helping others. Have your kids hold open doors for people, get them in the habit of saying thank you to people waiting on them. Kindness is something that can be practiced constantly! 

5. Have Hard Conversations

When your kids are not on their best, confront them with what you see and how you’d like it to change. Be upfront, be honest, and be direct. Don’t make excuses for them, don’t justify their poor behavior, just be clear with your expectations and be consistent with consequences. We call this the “come to Jesus meeting” and sometimes the kids need a quick reality check when their attitudes start to go awry. It can be hard in the moment, but it’s important to check in and communicate failures and expectations.

6. Get them Involved

They need to be part of the decision making process. When their voice matters, they have more buy in and are less likely to complain. Let them help make choices about family outings, have them do some research, make them the navigator. This allows them to feel helpful and gives them a mission. When kids are busy they are less likely to annoy you or each other.

Grateful Kids and Happy Parents

By the end of our trip, our kids came away feeling totally fulfilled with the little souvenirs they had picked out with their garage sale money, they even worked out deals between themselves and made loans to help each other. They continued their regular chores while in the condo, helped with laundry and meals, and became our pack mules when it came to carrying beach supplies. They helped to plan outings, navigated maps, cheered me on during an insanely muddy hike, and were thankful for each shave ice they received.

We were able to reset before things got ugly, mainly because we had already established these expectations and put them into practice beforehand. Kids need this structure and routine. They need to know how to combat the feeling of instant gratification and instead seek the feeling of being grateful for what they have. If they can do this, they will be one step closer to growing into those good humans we so desperately want them to be.

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