Five Scientific Reasons Your Kids (Or You) May Feel Entitled and What To Do About It
By: Adele Paynter, Head of Lower School at Charlotte Country Day School
I READ an interesting article in The Washington Post, entitled "How to Raise Kinder, Less Entitled Kids (according to science)," and I thought with the holidays just behind us, it might be a helpful article to share. I have to say that I am consistently impressed with the gratitude and community-mindedness of families at Country Day; however, as the author says, "Nearly all of us have bang-our-head-against-the-wall stories about our kids acting entitled. We've tried what feels like everything to stop it, and we still feel like we're not getting it right." But, lucky for us, science is here to rescue us, and here's what it tells us:
Fundamental Attribution Error: We all have the tendency to emphasize an individual's perceived shortcomings versus external factors when irritated or frustrated. For example, a certain Lower School Head might view the barista at Starbucks as being incredibly slow and inefficient whenever she's in a morning rush instead of realizing that perhaps they are backed up with mobile orders. So, the next time your child (or Head of Lower School) complains about food not being prepared fast enough or a line lasting too long, talk to them about how the other person might be feeling and point out other things that might be going on. "It's a way of uncentering our kids' universe and getting them thinking outside of themselves."
Hedonic Adaptation: This is just a fancy way to say that according to behavioral research, we become acclimated to almost anything if we're exposed to it frequently…it becomes our new normal. So, for example, if our children get used to having their beds made every day, or sitting down to an already set table, OR having a milkshake with dinner, they'll come to expect that as the norm, and any deviation will seem like a loss. So, be thoughtful about the "default" you are setting up for your children, and keep special things special.
Availability Bias: Researchers show that we tend to overestimate the "prevalence of something if we see many examples of it." This can be especially challenging in an independent school where kids are exposed to amazing circumstances and opportunities. Kids will tend see this as normal, "not because they are spoiled…but because it's what they see every day." To help children expand their views, researchers suggest being explicit with them that it is "not the norm but just one little slice of the world." Perspective is the key here, so intentionally expanding your child's circle of friends/contacts across socioeconomic lines can be helpful, as can finding opportunities for volunteering for those less fortunate.
Identifiable Victim Effect: When it comes to giving back, humans tend to be "more empathetic and generous when they learn about the plight of a single individual versus a group." This is especially true for children. When they can attach a name/face to a cause, they are incredibly motivated to help. So choose volunteer opportunities for your child to become involved in that have a direct and personal impact. As a child, I gave money to Save the Children, and they put me in contact with the recipient, a little girl my age named Rasha Abu El Ezz. She lived in Lebanon, and I still have the letters we wrote to one another, sharing our secrets and adventures. It had a huge impact on me. I also remember the excitement of picking out gifts for kids from the Angel Tree in Wilmington; it meant so much to find the perfect present for a "7-year-old, active boy" or a "3-year-old girl who loves dolls."
Quid Pro Whoa! This one was an eye-opener to me. Apparently, we are more motivated to do things as part of a social transaction than a financial one. Attaching money to it makes us immediately think "was it worth it? Did I get enough?" This suggests that paying for chores perhaps isn't going to have the impact we want; instead, researchers suggest that for everyday chores, we let kids know that it is simply a needed contribution to help the family function, and we save our money to pay for a big/unusual chore.
Parent Education Community Resources
At Country Day, we cultivate a community of lifelong learners, including parents. Throughout the school year, parents are invited and encouraged to participate in a wide range of opportunities to foster balance and well-being with their children. In addition to educational workshops and community book discussions led by faculty members, special guest speakers and Country Day’s own faculty and staff experts speak on timely and relevant parenting topics such as brain research, wellness, and cyber safety. All parent education events are free and open to the public online. Please review our schedule and come join us.
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