I am sure, at least once a day, I hear (or read) “this generation of kids has such a sense of entitlement” and it’s beginning to irritate me. I have worked with children of all ages and rarely do I see this trait in a child. The children I work with tend to be kind and empathetic citizens of the world. When you ask a three year old how to make Jenny feel better they will often offer suggestions such as a bandaid, a hug or a kiss. This child is not thinking of themselves, they want to help their friend. Ask a nine year old what they would do if a new kid in class is being excluded by their other classmates. They will undoubtedly suggest that they go sit with them, or invite them to play or stick up for them. In the real world, us adults like to think this is what we would do, but is it? Don’t most of us join in when someone is being excluded at work or in our social circle? I pose that children are born virtuous and kind, and we sometimes teach them to be jealous, hateful and self-absorbed. At some point life becomes a competition and we model these survival behaviours for our children who eventually pick it up.
That is not to say that children do not feel entitled to some things. They feel entitled to a home, to food, to being heard, to play time. I do not feel that most children feel entitled to “toys,” although some children do a very good job at acting like they do and convincing adults of this fact, as well.
Children are able to see a problem with a compassionate lens and an empathetic heart. When someone falls, it does not matter “how hurt” the person is, other children will come to their aid. They do not care if the fall was serious enough to warrant compassion, because every hurt deserves compassion. We teach them to shut off their perception of others pain, by either not acknowledging theirs and/or minimizing or laughing at others pain. We want our children to keep this instinctual compassion for others, not teach them to ignore it.
Children are able to take data about a situation and create solutions that includes logic, emotion and social justice, in a way that adults seem to not be able to do. I have always said that instead of getting the leaders of the world together to try and solve the worlds problems, get a bunch of 9 to 12 year olds together. They will provide you with the most obvious solutions, that we as adults have trouble seeing. I can promise you not one would exploit the project for personal gain. A lot more than we can say for most of our adult political and world leaders.
I will admit, that if I am truly honest with myself, when I see my four year old get frustrated or overwhelmed, I see myself in him. I can hear my own voice, grunting in exasperation as I have trouble opening the stroller or trip over my husbands boots at the bottom of the stairs. He learned this behaviour and this “coping skill” from me. All this time of thinking I would teach him great self-regulation skills, he was watching my poor self-regulation skills.
So next time your child is acting spoiled, entitled, bratty or whiny, try some self-reflection and remember that children are not able to control themselves in the way adults can. So even though you told your child not to ask for a toy when you go to the store, when they see that toy that they want, that they are imagining completing their toy collection with just this one more toy, they completely forget your previous conversations. This is something we can relate to. You tell yourself a million times you are only going to get a baby shower gift, nothing for yourself. Then you see the perfect bag that would go with everything, you do need a new bag, and although you remember your conversation with yourself, that impulse is there. Your child feels the same way accept with the adult voice sitting on her shoulder saying “remember what you promised mommy.”
If we tell children they are selfish, entitled and ungrateful, I believe they may become that way. If we encourage and model gratitude, humility, grace and kindness, our children will likely model those traits too. You want to change the world? Be kind to children.
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