Crib Notes summarize all the parenting books you’d read if you weren’t too busy parenting. For great advice in chunks so small a toddler wouldn’t even choke on them, go here.
One thing should be clear to any parent who is paying attention: Children are monsters. If you’ve never called your child an egocentric, entitled tyrant (at least to yourself), chances are you’re not spending enough time with him or her. Even Gandhi, by his own admission, was a little turd as a kid. Qualities like empathy and selflessness don’t just happen, they have to be learned. That’s just science.
According to parenting pundits, social critics, and self-righteous adults, there is an “epidemic” of entitlement among kids (or anyone younger than us, in general) these days. Parenting expert Amy McCready has done some research on this egotistic plague in her book The Me, Me, Me Epidemic. She identifies the hapless child of the 70’s self-esteem movement as Patient Zero, and traces the vectors of contagion to our current crop of spoiled narcissists.
In addition to the boilerplate lamentations about today’s well-meaning parents ruining their children, McCready includes an exhaustive manual on how to “un-entitle” our kids in every aspect of their lives. Surprisingly, she reports that results can be achieved by means other than abject cruelty.
Because you’re a special snowflake, her advice has been sifted through and distilled just for you. (The crust is even cut off.)
1. Brace Yourself Against Cave-Ins
You give your baby everything they want (and more) because they’re adorable. Of course, you love them more than anything and want them to stop their infernal caterwauling. But if you allow this pattern to extend beyond infancy, everyone loses.
- Modern conveniences like on-demand video, one-click online shopping, and entertainment on mobile devices make instant gratification seem like a birthright, and makes it easier for us to cave to our kids’ demands than to teach them patience.
- According to McCready, kids develop their own “entitlement tools” to keep the gravy train chugging along. That includes pushing limits, selective hearing, backtalk, negotiating, and throwing tantrums.
What You Can Do With This
- Per McCreary, the most important tool for avoiding or mitigating childhood entitlement is “Mind, Body, and Soul Time” (MBST). It’s a dedicated 10-minute period of being fully present with your child so that they feel like they are being listened to and don’t act out in the aforementioned, attention-seeking ways.
- One-on-one time makes them feel more empowered and helps emotional growth and stability.
- When kids feel like their emotional “basket” is full, they’re less likely to seek attention and control in tiny but infuriating ways.
- MBST should be practiced once or twice a day, and can be any kind of face-time (except FaceTime): In the car, playing a board game, gutting an elk — and so forth.
- Turn off the screens while MBSTing!
- There’s a fine line between “extra cuddles” and taking advantage. When do you lay down the law? Well, it’s never too late to introduce rules, as long as you are clear about them and stand your ground. Let your kids know that they don’t get a special treat for not being an asshole in public. If you say they can use your iPad for only 15 minutes a day, there will be tears, but they’ll get used to it.
- Be the grownup. Model respectful communication when your kids are around. Even though you might whine, complain, wheedle, and snipe when they’re not within earshot.
2. Kids Need To Do It Their Damn Selves
Things may go more smoothly when we continue to wait on our little Lords and Ladies Fauntleroy hand-and-foot. But by denying them opportunities to rise to the tasks for which they are developmentally ready, you create roadblocks to their future independence.
- You’ll do anything to stop the whining, negotiating, and nagging — including putting yourself into indentured servitude.
- Because you never make/let the kids do shit themselves, you think of them as babies who are incapable of doing shit, and so you continue to not let them do shit.
- Even if your kids are theoretically willing and able to put away their laundry, make lunch, or drain the transmission fluid, you probably feel like it would take more time and effort to teach them than to do it yourself. This is true, but it’s your job to teach them. Sorry about all that lost time.
What You Can Do With This
- Children should have had some experience with every aspect of managing a household and a life; from health and hygiene to paying bills by the time they leave home.
- Teach your kids — and expect them to carry out — age-appropriate ways to contribute to the family every day, including self-care, housework, schoolwork, and relationships.
- Age-appropriate tasks can include:
- 2-3 years old: Wipe down kitchen surfaces, carry mail, pick up toys, set table
- 3-5 years old: Wake up with alarm clock, fold towels and washcloths, water plants, help sweep floors
- 6-8 years old: Wash dishes, prepare simple dishes , change bedsheets, pack own school lunch, pull weeds, put away groceries
Flickr / Alon Banks
3. Don’t Get Between Your Kids And The Consequences Of Their Actions
When parents bulldoze obstacles out of their kids’ paths, they run around cleaning up after them when they make mistakes. When you deliver Little Johnny’s forgotten lunchbox to school so he doesn’t get hungry, you prevent him from learning a crucial life lesson.
- Regardless of how much kids are sheltered, they will eventually learn how consequences work. For instance, when they don’t feel like going to work for a couple days they won’t earn any money. When they don’t have money, they don’t eat. And are you going to run their lunchbox to them when they’re 35?
- One of our goals as parents should be to teach them about consequences in a controlled environment where the stakes are relatively low.
- Consequences will teach kids not to fear setbacks, but to use them to make better choices in the future.
Flickr / Don Graham
What You Can Do With This
- Be aware of 2 kinds of consequences: Natural — those that happen without any parental intervention. And logical — those that you impose in response to something the child does.
- First, prepare them for the natural consequences by responding to their cockamamie idea or negative behavior with a “What is your plan?” Then, explore the possible outcomes. Try to direct them to the actions with the most desirable consequences, but allow them to experience the undesirable ones too. As long as they’re not life-threatening of too traumatizing.
- Create and institute logical consequences for behaviors that violate household rules or family values. (For example: A logical consequence to them refusing to brush their teeth would be no more eating out of the sugar bag.)
- Logical consequences should be carefully considered, and should follow the “5 R’s”:
- Respectful: Don’t shame or physically harm your kids.
- Related To the Misbehavior: Don’t restrict TV privileges for playground infractions.
- Reasonable: Get their attention, but don’t crush their spirit.
- Revealed In Advance: Whenever possible, tell them, when everyone is calm, what they can expect if they keep up the misbehavior.
- Repeated Back To You: Say, “To make sure we’re clear, can you repeat our rule for what happens when you leave your toys out?” Then you can impose the logical consequences (offending toys go on lockdown for a week), knowing that they are fully informed.
- Allowing and imposing consequences will make your life easier, but you have to keep up with the MBST, so your kid feels heard and empowered. Otherwise a steady diet of nothing but consequences could turn them into hard-bitten cynics. Like your parents.