Parenting with Dr. Ramey: Raising genuine, not entitled, kids

In a zealous effort to help kids feel good about themselves, parents may be raising a generation of entitled kids who are particularly vulnerable to chronic distress and unhappiness.

It’s great to recognize kids when their behavior is appropriate. However, many parents have taken this to an extreme, heaping unconditional praise upon their children. They reassure kids that they are unique and special simply because of who they are.

We know that’s not true. The world doesn’t care whether you feel special, but rather what you accomplish.

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Raised in a cocoon to think that they are extraordinarily exceptional, some kids develop a sense of entitlement. These individuals have an exaggerated sense of themselves, and an expectation that others should cater to their whims. They feel special in an unrealistic way, deserving of whatever they want, not what they accomplish. This trait can lead to long-term psychological problems according to research published last year by Joshua Grubbs and Julie Exline in Psychological Bulletin.

The researchers found that this personality trait makes people vulnerable to ongoing problems. Since others can never meet the naive expectations of entitled individuals, there is a constant sense of disappointment, anger and frustration. Confronted with these strong emotions, entitled people rarely reflect upon the unrealistic nature of their expectations. Rather, they simply reaffirm their inflated self-image, and the cycle of unmet expectations and frustrations begins anew.

We all know such toxic people. They frequently complain, taking little responsibility for anything that goes awry. Nothing ever quite meets their expectations. They rarely express genuine gratitude. They have superficial relationships, as others don’t like to be around such selfish and narcissistic individuals.

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This harmful trait develops in early childhood. Parents may be encouraging such narcissism with child-centered families and by making their kids addicted to recognition. Here’s how to avoid it:

1. Lighten up on the praise. Your focus shouldn’t be on helping kids feel good about themselves, but rather on behaving appropriately. Be moderate in your praise and rewards.

2. Develop early work habits. At an early age, every child should have some family chores. You shouldn’t pay your child for taking out the garbage or cleaning their room. Be careful about your language. They are not “helping you” in doing these tasks. They are taking responsibility for being a part of a family where everyone is expected to contribute.

3. Encourage gratitude. Happy people have a genuine sense of appreciation for what they have. Entitled people whine about what they don’t. This may be one of the most important traits you develop in your young child. Help them recognize and give thanks for their many benefits, and reach out and help others.

Next Week: What does it mean to be genuine?

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Dr. Ramey is the Executive Director of Dayton Children’s Center for Pediatric Mental Health Resources and can be contacted at Rameyg@childrensdayton.org.

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