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Entitlement and empowerment are two different things.
An “empowered” person is one who feels they are able to safely express their needs. Sometimes they get their needs met, sometimes they don’t; but they always feel that it’s ok to say that they need something.
Avoiding ridicule, encouraging putting their neediness into words and acknowledging the validity of their need (even if it can’t be met by you or them) — these will all help them feel empowered.
Tactical help whenever possible is great; particularly if you help them to learn how to meet their own needs. As my dad used to say, “Be your own hero.”
We often use “entitled” when we mean someone has expectations that are out of alignment with reality. In fact, everyone will feel entitled sometimes, and there are some things we should feel entitled to: parents who love us, teachers who care whether we’re learning, bosses who pay us for work done.
To “inoculate” against entitlement, focus on teaching three things:
- Empathy: The first step to combatting entitlement is to help a child be able to express what they think they deserve, and also to understand the other side. This is empathy. Maybe you feel you’ve done the work, but the boss doesn’t. Or, you feel like you don’t understand and the teacher should help you, but the rest of the class needs help, too, and it’s just one teacher.
- Community: The next step to inoculate against a sense of entitlement is to be able to consistently form more realistic expectations, and that means having a good sense of how one person fits into the overall community. This is why I feel that the “entitlement problem” is usually one of parenting: specifically when parents march into schools and request their children have special treatment. Of course, this is an absolutely normal “protective” impulse. You can control this impulse in yourself by focusing on the community overall, and your child’s “fit” in it. You can ask other adults in positions of authority how they view the balance of your child’s needs within the community. Parents will transmit “community feel” to their kids.
- Gratitude: Last — and it is last, actually — is getting kids to feel grateful for what they have. This is such an element of perspective … I’m sure all adults remember times when they wanted more, but now as they age they’re so grateful for very small things.
To teach gratitude, start small, and unthreatening! Instead of pointing out “that kid doesn’t have food!” which will make a child feel unsafe — and “safety” is one of those things we all want children to feel entitled to! — start small.
Feeling grateful for treats is always easier, because it’s a surprise and it’s beyond their expectations. In general, parents and teachers need to help kids learn to identify the feeling, first.
As they grow and develop perspective, they will be able to identify feeling grateful for those privileges we all know are so incredibly important for them to identify as they become increasingly aware of the world around them… which is why you need to start with empathy and community.
Jessica Margolin is an expert in intangible asset assessment and valuation (non-financial currencies) and its applicability in community situations and in financial analysis. You can find more Quora posts here: