Pursuing the two Rs
Some parents may work a little too hard at parenting through words alone. Let’s face it, words are readily available, can be delivered quickly, and are easy to cite later (“How many times must I tell you…?!”).
But responsibility and respect (the two ‘R’s) are hard to teach with words. Teaching R & R is done through the granting of privileges based on evident readiness to handle them properly, and by providing rewards that have been earned. The opposite—entitlement—is taught by granting rewards and privileges based on little or no evidence of deservedness or readiness, perhaps just because her/his peers enjoy the privilege, or because you’re tired of the whining. Dr. Marsha B. Sauls describes it as “rewarding children just for existing.”
Both R & R and entitlement are learned behaviors, primarily assimilated through the actions of parents, teachers, grandparents etc. Children, however, can slip quite easily into a state of entitlement, since it’s easier for the adults to inadvertently teach entitlement than to deliberately and methodically teach responsibility and respect. Giving in to a child’s demand for an indulgence solves the problem in the immediate term, and busy parents are naturally driven to solve as many problems as they can as abruptly as they can. Resisting surrender until a reward or privilege is earned instills responsibility and respect, but leaves you with a less-than-happy child for a while. Hopefully all parents indulge their children at times; the question to ask is, “Am I doing it so often that my child is developing an ‘entitled’ attitude? How can I really tell?”
As the holiday season approaches, the appearance of either responsible & respectful or entitled behaviors tend to come forth in children. At this time of year your family might be one of many preparing for the events and rituals that mark your own personal, spiritual or cultural seasonal celebrations. In many households in many parts of the world these celebrations include gift-giving. Joyful gift-giving is central to many holiday notions of generosity, affection, and community. But let’s face it, for most kids the focus is quite different, and while your heart may be made full in the act of giving, the focus for the children is likely to be fixed on the receiving.
Nothing unusual about that. What’s important is a child’s reaction in the receiving of a gift not wanted or not receiving the gift he had in mind. Just as with privileges not yet granted, or rescinded, there is a responsible and respectful way to handle disappointment and there is an entitled way. In either case, the child will be disappointed, and it will probably show. But the R & R child will process the disappointment fairly quickly and move on; the entitled child will escalate their disappointment into anger and belligerence.
Parents understand that they do not own their children, that they are merely temporary caretakers, nurturing their children out of love. Some children understand this too. But an entitled child has come to believe that they “own” their world, own their rewards and privileges, and in a sense own their parents. You can’t rightfully deny or take away their belongings—not if you are seen as being one!
What do the parents of responsible and respectful kids know that the parents of entitled children don’t?
When a child abuses a privilege granted, we generally take away the privilege until a more responsible attitude and behavior pattern emerges. Same with rewards—if they are unappreciative, we decide to reward less often. But when that reward or privilege was originally given for no real reason—e.g. his friends get to play outside before doing their homework so he should be allowed to do that too—the child will not readily accept the notion that (to get it back) she must actually earn her rewards and privileges the second time. This seems unfair to the child. In fact, because it’s backward logic, it is unfair. And because they didn’t really earn the reward or privilege the first time around, they truly may have no idea what “earning” something even looks and feels like.
Parenting toward responsible and respectful children requires the parent to first realize that it is not their job to ensure constant happiness for their kids, and attempting to do so actually puts their child at a disadvantage emotionally, socially (these children are less inclined to share, to habituate manners, or to wait their turn), and some argue vocationally, since a distorted view of reality does not usually serve one well at the office in later life. R & R parenting sets limits that may lead to periodic rejection by the child, but it doesn’t last and the respect gained is well worth it. These parents know that not every disappointment or embarrassment can or should be shielded from their child’s reality, since it is those very experiences that instill an aptitude for empathy to the feelings of others. These parents also know that a child’s promises of better behavior later for a reward or privilege wanted now is a backward argument, and not usually sincere.
So how are rewards and privileges to be earned?
Richard and Linda Eyre, authors of “The Entitlement Trap”, suggest teaching children how to earn credits by doing household chores. These credits build up until something desired (likely the latest electronic gadget) has been earned. Whether you use this technique or not, ‘earning’ is a powerful concept that has remarkable power to teach about reasonable goals, setting priorities, and accepting necessary limitations. And the pride in having something self-earned (including a privilege) goes a long way in the development of a child’s sense-of-self.
We all hope to raise our children with an attitude and appreciation for responsibility and respect rather than entitlement. You’re no doubt doing a very good job of it now, but this is tough stuff with some kids. Children have their own nature and are rapidly developing a unique personality…don’t blame yourself if your child seems to have an entitled attitude despite your most determined efforts. Just stick with it, do your best, take care of yourself—remember that you are in fact doing the hardest job in the world.