In “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” Veruca Salt is the bratty little girl who tells her daddy she wants a goose that lays the golden eggs. Her father immediately turns to Willy Wonka and asks, “How much for the goose?”
Wonka tells him they are not for sale. Veruca says she wants one immediately, makes more demands of her father and basically throws a temper tantrum. Although her father seems embarrassed by his daughter’s behavior, he allows it to continue.
“Parents who did not grow up with a lot themselves often desire to give their children what they did not have with the intention of helping them to have a better life,” says psychologist Susan Hickman.
Perhaps that was the case with Veruca. Most people cringe at her behavior. Unfortunately, giving children a lot without earning it can lead to ingratitude and a sense of entitlement.
“Entitlement is about excess,” Hickman says. “It is like a cancer on your personality. In the formative years, if children don’t learn the correlation between effort, earning and then receiving, the effect of this multiplies as they get into their teen years and then into young adulthood. It is hard to wash out the sense of entitlement.”
Hickman believes it is a mistake for parents to lead their child to believe he/she is the center of the universe. This mistake is often unintentional and is based on sacrificial love for their children.
“It is true that parents need to make sure their child’s basic needs are met for food, clothing and shelter,” Hickman says. But there must be a give-and-take between parents and the children. In other words, it isn’t all about the kids.
Giving your children everything they want, allowing them to do all they want to do and/or telling them they excel at all they attempt is not necessarily helpful in the long run.
There are, however, some strategies to help you avoid raising an entitled child.
Avoid excess. Excess leads to unrealistic expectations.
Stick with the basics. A phone that works is adequate. If they want something nicer, let them earn it. People tend to appreciate what they earn.
Hardship builds character. Instead of rescuing your children from difficulty or shielding them from natural consequences, hold them accountable. Learning lessons during hard times is unparalleled compared to easy times.
Encourage good citizenship at home and in the community. Doing chores and helping others without pay is part of being a good family member. Teach your children that, as a member of society, the rules apply to them.
Don’t reward bad behavior. If your child learns that you will ultimately give in to their persistence, this will always be their default behavior. Avoid the power struggle that often leads you to give in by giving your answer and walking away.
Utilizing these strategies when your children are young will prevent a lot of drama later in life. If you have not employed these strategies with your teens, there is still time. Change is possible, but it won’t be pretty.
A parent’s job is not to be their child’s best friend. The most loving thing parents can do is to make changes that will adequately prepare them for adulthood, even if they don’t like them.
Acknowledge that change will probably be difficult, but that you love them too much to continue harmful behavior. And be sure to surround yourself with people who will support and encourage you through this process.