Too often kids feel entitled to have their parents do everything for them. Here’s how to reverse a sense of entitlement and get your kids to help around the house.
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It’s a common scene in many of our homes.
Shortly after breakfast, we walk into the kitchen and find left-behind plates with bread crumbs, an open butter container and spilled orange juice on the counter.
When we ask our kids to clean up the mess, at first they “can’t hear us” and when they miraculously do, a million excuses are given why cleaning can’t happen at that moment.
Multiple reminders later, the dishes are grudgingly put away but the OJ is still left splattered on the counter and butter left out.
Not wanting to nag them again, it’s just much easier for us to clean the mess ourselves. Grabbing a paper towel to wipe up the OJ, we get to work – justifying our action by the fact it never would have been properly cleaned up anyway.
While in the midst of cleaning up, our kids rush out the door to catch the bus. But there’s no – “Thank you Mom!”, simply a “Bye!” as they head off to school.
How to spot entitlement
Occasionally cleaning up a few dishes for our kids isn’t a big deal. After all, being part of a family we all help each other from time to time – right?
But at what point do kids see our aid as not just help but as something that they should expect – something they’re entitled to?
According to Amy McCready, author of the book “The Me, Me, Me Epidemic”, the following are signs you may have an entitlement problem in your house:
- Your kids often expect you to do things for them they can easily do for themselves.
- You ask your kids to help out with something and they rarely do – or it takes an inordinate amount of time (or a bribe or a reward) to get them to cooperate.
- You often find the need to rescue your kids from their commitments (homework, for example) since they so often feel overwhelmed.
- Your kids rarely show appreciation for your help – since they expect your help all the time, they’re not grateful for it.
How did this happen and is it possible to un-entitle my child?
Getting to the root of how kids become entitled gives insight into how to un-entitle them.
Let’s first take a look at young kids – remember when your toddler really wanted to help you fold laundry or make dinner? Kids are naturally eager to be independent and helpful.
But somewhere along the way parents – often out of love, but sometimes out of impatience – squash their kids emerging independence: they put their three-year-old’s toys away for them, their five-year-old isn’t allowed to make her own toast in the morning, the eight-year-old’s bed is made for her so that it’s done right, and the eleven-year-old has been told he can’t wash the car (since surely he’ll miss a few spots).
Doing everything for our kids – when they’re capable of doing it themselves – sends the message that a parent’s role is to cater to their kids’ every need. It also sends the message:
- That our kids aren’t capable independently
- Kids aren’t equal members of the household
- Kids can’t be trusted to take care of certain tasks on their own
- That perfection is needed from the beginning or else there’s no reason to bother trying (as in the case with the washed car).
If kids live a life where all their needs are taken care of and they feel incapable of being independent, kids will naturally begin to believe that having mom and dad do everything for them is just normal – the way life is.
Un-entitling kids from a free ride at home
So how can parents break free from the cycle of doing everything for their kids?
With a lot of patience, encouragement, and learning to let go.
Because let’s be honest – sometimes doing things for our kids is easy. It takes patience to watch a five-year-old struggle to tie her shoes when you just need to get out the door and no seven-year-old is going to sweep the floor or make their bed to our standards.
Letting our kids do things for themselves means we have to accept imperfection. But the end result is – according to Amy McCready – that we are “building feelings of belonging and significance in our kids that are crucial to their emotional well-being.”
How parents can let go and encourage independence in kids:
It can take some effort for parents to let go and let kids do more on their own. Here’s what’s needed for parents to back off and encourage independence in kids:
- Find your inner patience: it can take kids a LONG TIME to get a simple task done. Slow down, try your best not to rush kids, and let them try and try again on their own.
- Embrace imperfection: Dishes placed incorrectly in the dishwasher, a small pile of dust still left on an already swept floor, windows cleaned but streaks left behind. These are the common outcomes of kids doing a task we could do so much better ourselves. It will take time for kids to do a task correctly – the important thing is to let them try and encourage their effort.
- Take time to train: While we can’t expect perfection, we can train our kids to do tasks correctly. This too requires patience as kids often don’t absorb a lesson in one sitting. Creating an environment that encourages kids to be more self-sufficient – like having kid-sized brooms or milk pitchers that are easy for kids to handle – will aid kids success.
- Encourage more than critique: Encouraging kids by praising their effort will make them want to do a task again and again. While kids will continue to make mistakes or not complete a job to perfection, instead of critiquing, show kids what is needed to do the job better next time.
- Consistency is key: Consistently encouraging kids to do things independently and help out with chores around the house is a key to success – and one of the most difficult hurdles for parents to overcome. But after a few weeks of practice, the dedication to encouraging kids to be independent will result in more helping hands around the house and less work for you.
But just because my kids know how to do something doesn’t mean they’ll do it
Just because we’ve taught our kids to how to take care of themselves, doesn’t mean they’ll instantly want to do it. That’s where Amy McCready’s rule: “When-Then” comes into play.
Here’s how it works: your kids need to put their clean laundry away but at this very moment they really want to go outside and ride bikes. Simply say to them: “When your laundry is put away and the basket put away downstairs then you can ride your bikes.”
Screen time, in particular, can be especially effective as the “then” in the “when-then” scenario. You’d like to watch your 30 minutes TV show? You can do that as soon as the cat litter is cleaned and your art supplies are put away.
Using the “When-Then” scenario isn’t just an effective way to get kids to do what they need to do, it’s also teaching them how to prioritize their time.
And one more thing – kids are more likely to comply without a fuss if they were made aware of the task ahead of time. Having a chart or list of expected responsibilities can make it clear to everyone what needs to be done.
Signs of success
Imagine this: A 15-year-old who does his own laundry (including folding and putting the clothes in drawers), a 17-year-old who makes dinner for the family once a week and an 18-year-old who arrives at college equipped to not only handle school work but also manage money, eat balanced meals, and take care of personal needs without any help.
The end goal of raising unentitled kids isn’t just to have more hands to help around the house but to raise self-sufficient adults. As Amy McCready puts it:
So while you patiently wait for your kids to pack their own lunches or discover your kids have set the table with forks on the right and knives on the left – take a deep breath and remember: every little instance when our kids are expressing their independence and doing something by themselves is one more step towards empowering them to be confident, self-sufficient adults.
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