Underneath tantrums, sibling fights, entitled “me, mine, give me more” demands, back talking and power struggles are messages. Messages that can reveal what a child is feeling, thinking and deciding. Messages that when understood can help us better respond, connect and guide our children. One of the principles behind positive parenting is understanding that all behaviors are purposeful.
Behind a tantrum may be a request for connection and help expressing difficult emotions. Behind back talk might be a message of discouragement.
But what about when children are acting in entitled and demanding ways?
- What should a parent understand about a child that expects and demands a bribe or a reward for being “good”?
- What does it mean if a child doesn’t want to participate in household chores – ever – or without an endless struggle?
- What if a child has difficulties accepting responsibility for his own mistakes and always blames others?
- What if a child is sure rules just don’t apply to them because they are special?
- What if a child pouts and nags until you give in into requests for big new toys and overpriced clothes?
- What if a child whines, tantrums and screams to be sure she gets what she wants, when she wants it?
- What if a child is focused on “me, mine, my stuff” and doesn’t seem to be grateful or caring of others?
On the surface, these behaviors can be quickly summarized as demanding, whiny and entitled behaviors.
What is behind your child’s entitled, demanding, attention seeking behaviors?
What we typically think of “good” behaviors, like listening, cooperating, helping around the house, being flexible, playing nicely…these tend to come to the surface when a child has all of her basic needs being met on a consistent basis.
When a child senses that her basic needs are not being met, demanding, attention seeking and entitled behaviors are more likely to start creeping up. Whining for every thing, screaming for toys and treats, refusing to help with chores, blaming others…These behaviors (when present all the time) are red flags.
Red flags that signal disconnection, discouragement, insecurity, worry and fear of being unloved, unimportant. And while these behaviors are considered “bad” and “unwanted” it’s much more helpful for you and your child to see these as mistaken or misguided behaviors instead. Signals that your presence and loving guidance are very much needed!
“Attention seeking” is in reality, a child’s natural nine-to-five. By this, I mean that children are by birth driven to search for love, belonging and significance. A sense that they matter, have a purpose and are welcome members of the family. And if these needs are not met, in positive ways, children will gladly settle for negative or unhelpful ways to fullfill their needs.
What’s more, if the negative ways work over and over again, (i.e. tantrums work to get toys and treats, pouting gets that fancy party, yelling gets him out of chores…) and there is a lack of positive, connected attention, and emotional validation, then children will have no reason not to believe that demanding and being entitled is how they must get their needs met.
So to stop entitled, demanding, and unnecessary behaviors our job is to give our children what they ARE entitled to:
1. Unconditional love: This comes in the form of understanding and accepting emotions, extending validation, empathy and loving care.
2. Safety: By keeping boundaries and limits clear, expectations age appropriate and providing physical as well as emotional safety.
3. Positive Attention every day: Not only providing children with plenty of opportunities to play, learn and discover but also your personal attention and care.
Amy McCready, of Postive Parenting Solutions and author of the Upcoming book The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic explains why this is important:
“By giving kids what they are entitled to—your un- conditional love and some undivided time and attention each day— you’ll feel confident not giving in to demands for things they are not entitled to.”
Here are a few more suggestions for stopping demanding, entitled behaviors based on Amy McCready’s book:
1. Start Small: If there are many ways in which your child seems to be demanding or shows signs of being entitled, tackle one issue at a time. Maybe you need to set better limits with screen time, or stick to your budget or be more specific about what you will or will not cook at dinner time. Just pick one issue and try to understand the message behind your child’s behavior and strive to respond in a new way.
2. Allow Disappointments: Having a happy child all the time is neither possible, nor desirable. Be assured that it’s important for children to feel every kind of emotion and that emotional flexibility is really important for well-being. Disappointment in the fact that you can’t buy the latest lego ninjago ghost pack or that delicious fro-yo right before dinner will pass. Kids do get bombarded every day with messages that they must buy, have, and do more…our job can be to help them find balance – even when it is initially met with disappointment.
3. Be The Model: “Parents set the tone for the house” reminds Amy. So model respectful, kind interactions. Negotiate and make agreements in a way that demonstrates respectful disagreements and put the focus on problem solving not punishments. Remember that if you keep giving in, pushing presents instead of offering your presence and forgetting to welcome your child’s contributions (even if imperfect!) your child is getting the message that demanding stuff and having things matters more than relationships and developing his own capabilities.
All behaviors are communication. And so much of what is going on with a child’s behavior has much more to do with what is miles below the surface then just what we readily see. Children will do well when they feel loved, accepted and safe. Demanding and entitled behaviors come from a place of insecurity (even if it doesn’t look that way). Providing loving guidance with clear limits will put you and your child back on a positive path.
Peace & Be Well,
P.s. – If you are concerned that your child has become demanding and entitled or would like to fill up your parenting tool box with un-entitling tools, Amy has loads of helpful information and ideas in her book The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic
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