Does Your Child Act Entitled? 5 Sensible Ways to Curb It

They beg, they whine, they make demands and bargain. And sometimes you can't help but cave in, which only makes the problem worse. Here are Mighty Mommy's 5 simple tips for toning down your child's sense of entitlement and fostering a work ethic, gratitude, and the ability to learn from failure.

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #603
The Quick And Dirty

Use these five strategues to curb your child's sense of entitlement and help him or her stay focused on values that aren't materialistic:

  1. Instill a work ethic by requiring your child to work for big-ticket items
  2. Create some house rules about how you'll handle big purchases ... and stick to them!
  3. Teach your kids how to learn from failure
  4. Don't be afraid to buy second-hand—thrift shopping is trendy!
  5. Practice gratitude and make it part of your family routine

Grocery shopping for eight kids is not for the faint of heart! I strategize my mission to swiftly get in and out in less than, say, a week (Ha!) only to drive home and spend hours putting it all away. I purposely shop in another town so I won't get distracted chatting with neighbors and friends. (No, I'm not kidding!)

It takes a lot to veer me off course, but last week's encounter with an adorable child, probably six years old, did just that. She was having an animated cell phone conversation with her grandmother while shopping with her dad. When the chat was over, the little girl tucked what turned out to be her phone into her backpack. Then, without asking, she hurried down to the candy aisle and shoved several bags of goodies into her dad's shopping cart. When Dad reminded her to put her phone in its case before they left the store, she shook her head and declared that she was too tired. He patted her head indulgently and said he'd take care of it himself when they got to the car.

I want to say I was stunned by this little exchange, but honestly?—I wasn't. Kids behaving entitled (and parents indulging them) seems to be more of the norm these days than the exception.

Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutionswrites in the article, 9 Signs That a Child Has Entitlement Issues:

When children receive everything they want, we feed into their sense of entitlement—and feelings of gratitude fall by the wayside. ...The entitlement epidemic usually begins with over-parenting—over-indulging, over-protecting, over-pampering, over-praising, and jumping through hoops to meets kids' endless demands. Today's generation of parents are overly invested in their child's happiness, comfort, and success.

Whether you've inadvertently given your child a sense of entitlement (hey, it happens to the best of us!) or you're not quite sure what created the entitlement monster, there are ways to put a stop to the behavior. Here are five simple strategies to help your child realize important values beyond the material.

5 strategies to help curb your child's sense of entitlement

1.  Instill a work ethic deserving of big-ticket items

Kids and chores—this can be a controversial parenting hot button. Some homes thrive because they have an organized system where kids routinely help out with tasks. Other families don't want to burden their kids with scheduled chores because they feel life is already too hectic for them with school and outside activities.

Children who do chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, contributing to success in school.

My recent episode, How to Get Kids to Help Out With Chores, cited research that shows chores are beneficial. Children who do chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, contributing to success in school.

With our large brood of eight kids, establishing chores was a no brainer. Not only did we rely on their help, but it also taught them responsibility and allowed them to earn spending money.

My colleague, Laura Adams, host of QDT's Money Girl podcast, agrees. In our episode How to Teach Your Kids About Money, she shared that giving kids an allowance helps them understand and appreciate the value of money. Here's an example she shared.

Let's say you pay a child $5 to sweep the driveway or to shovel snow for a half hour.

If they want to buy an iPod Shuffle that costs $50, they understand that it takes five hours of work to save enough. If they want the iPod Nano for $150, they'll have to put in 15 hours of work. There's nothing wrong with kids wanting or buying expensive stuff as long as they've earned it or have a yardstick to value their parents' contribution.

Laura recommends introducing your child to an online budgeting program such as Family Mint. My family has been using Mint for years! It's easy to navigate and very motivating.

2. Make sure your kids know the house rules about big-ticket items

New laptops, the latest smartphone, or clothes with expensive designer labels are items kids often think they need to keep up with their friends. But what your child thinks they need and what you think they need can be two very different things.

My kids know that they'll need to either earn that pricey item or chip in for it.

To keep your kids from endlessly begging for that big-ticket item all the cool kids have (and to prevent you from possibly caving in to their incessant demands), it's good to have some house rules about how you'll handle these requests. And then, stick to those rules!

Our family's rule is that nothing over $50 is purchased without a plan. My kids know that they'll need to either earn that pricey item or chip in for it. When the whining and bargaining starts, you can put an end to it quickly by reminding your child of the house rule.

3. Teach kids to fail

One of the reasons parents often fall victim to fueling their child's entitlement is that they don't want to see their child disappointed, no matter the cost. No parent feels good when their child is sad and disappointed. And maybe that's why, in our society, we do things like giving awards for participation instead of awards for success.

Kids need to know that failing is part of learning to succeed and winning is about more than just showing up.

I've supported all of my kids through the best and worst moments of every sporting event imaginable. And I've always believed that participation trophies do a disservice to kids.

Kids need to know that failing is part of learning to succeed and winning is about more than just showing up. As former Olympian and LA Galaxy soccer star Cobi Jones says in this video (appropriately titled "Trophies Are for Winning"), "If you don't put in the work, you won't get ahead. And not getting ahead—well, that feels awful. So put in the work or go home."

4. Don't be afraid to buy second-hand

Guess what's making a trendy comeback?  Thrift stores and buying used!

Entitled kids may think shopping at well-known stores is a much-needed stamp of approval, but that's not always the case. Designer tags are everywhere, not just in high-end shops. Thrift stores are now a smarter choice!

Every year I highlight the cutting edge trends for the new year. In 5 Popular Parenting Trends for 2020, shopping thrift stores was at the top of the charts!  As I said in that episode, "Keeping in style can be a significant source of pressure for kids, particularly tweens and teens. It still blows my mind that an average pair of brand name sneakers my child might grow out of in three months can cost well over $100. That makes me grateful for this money-saving trend—thrift store shopping."

If you're new to the world of thrift store shopping, make a fun day of window shopping so you can check out the hype for yourself.

Don't forget online thrift stores! ThredUp has some fantastic finds.

5. Find gratitude lessons in the everyday

Sure we want our kids to have the best things in life, but we also need to teach them that even though they may not have the latest tech gadgets and top-of-the-line basketball shoes, they have plenty of blessings to be grateful for. And studies have shown that practicing gratitude has lasting positive effects on the brain.

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude has lasting positive effects on the brain.

Like good manners, instilling a sense of gratitude starts at a very young age. Start with simple reminders such as pointing out how lucky they are to have a cozy bed to snuggle into each night or a car to drive them to their after-school activities. Remind them how fortunate they are to have grandparents who love to read them stories or siblings to hang out with when they're bored.

One of my favorite parenting tips is to establish a thankfulness routine. And it's easy to do! Just ask your child, "What are you most thankful for today?" And make that thankfulness routine a habit. In our family, we do this several times per week at dinner or while driving to sports practices and events. Now, years later, my older kids often ask me what I'm thankful for!

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.