by Emily Somma
We viewed being born to wealth and privilege as a breeding ground for entitlement not so long ago. These days divorce achieves pretty much the same thing. Even without divorce, we want to give our kids everything they need, as well as everything they set their hearts on. It’s fun giving them all the extras: good food, exciting experiences, lovely toys. But when they start demanding and expecting they should get what they want, it can feel as if we’re creating a monster. Divorce amplifies this. Separated parents will often compete to be the "fun" parent by letting their children break the rules, or buying them gifts. They may be so wrapped up in their problems and unable to cope with all the demands of single parenthood that they use promises of new toys or going to McDonald’s to bribe their children to behave, or they may do much the same thing to ease their guilt for breaking up the family. These kinds of entitlement-inducing behaviors teach children that adults are supposed to satisfy their every whim.
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Now you’re in the picture and, although you love your partner, you’re not feeling as captivated by his demanding, self-centered, and ungrateful kids. Don’t despair because, as parenting coach Avital explains, there is an antidote for entitlement.
HELPING ENTITLED STEPCHILDREN GAIN PERSPECTIVE
According to Avital, known to her podcast listeners as The Parenting Junkie, if you want to help an entitled child become a grateful and contributing part of your family, there are steps you need to follow. Here are five of the most important and effective ones:
Model gratitude in times of adversity
Any challenge, big or small, is an opportunity for us to focus on the positives. Instead of expecting your stepchild to do as you say, not as you do, teach by example, even during times of adversity. By focusing on what you have and not what you don’t have, you are paving the way for your stepchild to do the same.
Encourage real contributions from your stepchild
Even if it’s easier for you to pour the milk, let your stepchild do it. We step in and do things for children because it’s more convenient. Children learn by practice. Being contributing citizens and family members gives meaning to what they do. It lets them feel empowered and helps them see that what they do matters. Afterward, thank them for helping the home run smoothly.
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Adopt a charity as a family
Plan International is a charity that helps advance the human rights of children—girls in particular. When you sponsor a child, you have opportunities to interact with them and see how your sponsorship is changing his or her life. But there are many other worthwhile charities as well. By adopting a charity, you can begin building strong bonds between you and your stepchild and help them see the positive difference they can make in someone else’s life and that you can make together as a family.
Volunteer as a family
Think about volunteering as a family—for trails and open space clean-up—at a pet shelter, a homeless shelter, or perhaps a nursing home or senior center. Volunteering is a powerful cure for entitlement that will bring you closer together as a family and help your stepchild gain a better perspective of life.
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Teach your stepchild relentless optimism
Written by American author and educator Dr. Martin Seligman, The Optimistic Child is a great parent and step-parent resource that will help you help kids develop resilience and mastery that will be so profound you’ll be left thinking this isn’t the same entitled stepchild you started with. Learned optimism won’t just help your stepchild view bad behavior as temporary and specific to the situation; it will help you do the same thing so that together you can turn the page and start on a new, happier, and more rewarding footing.
Because this is your stepchild and not your biological child, you could also choose to do nothing. It’s not your responsibility to clean up someone else’s mess. But, if you’re up for the challenge and want to turn things around, no matter how hopeless the outlook is now, you do have the power to help your stepchild be cured of entitlement.