Spoilt brat. Little emperor. Enfant terrible. We come up with many names to describe what we hope our children won’t become, but how do we ensure they actually don’t? Worse still, what on earth do we do if they have already become one?
Two is better than one
Few things can be more frustrating than one parent trying to achieve something and the other seemingly working against it. Just like marriage, parenting takes effort and communication. If you are new parents, make it a common goal that your baby will not grow up spoilt. Start by listing specific things you will or will not do in the future. If your child has already caught the ‘little emperor’ syndrome, acknowledge the problem together, identify past behaviours that may have enabled your child to feel entitled, and discuss changes the both of you would like to make.
A good approach would be focusing on what you would want your child to be like instead of focusing on what you wouldn’t want them to be like. Instead of trying to make them better, show them better. Small things such as showing respect to your parents (their grandparents) or thanking a cleaner go a long way. Children respond better to what they are shown rather than what they are told.
Make them work for it
Our family went without a live-in domestic helper once our twins turned 4. My wife and I took over most of the household chores and we had a cleaner come to our place one morning a week. We also entrusted our twins with age-appropriate chores. Housework was shared between the four of us by the time they were sixteen. In the process, they took ownership and learned responsibility.
Often, children don’t value something because they don’t know the effort that’s been taken to provide them with it and therefore feel entitled to it. Children need to experience what it takes to maintain a household and understand the fact that money doesn’t come easily. Do encourage them to find a part-time job, pay their own bills, and tidy up their room. As painful as it may be, it will greatly help them grow in maturity.
Show them what it means to have less
Our family enjoys eating at hawker centres but the twins had to get used to the heat. Even when they told us that their primary school classmates had smart phones, they were only given pre-paid phones when they entered secondary school. They eventually received their first smart phones after they completed their O-Level exams.
Family vacations can sometimes increase the sense of entitlement in a child, who may expect extravagant yearly trips to exotic locations. Sometimes a shock to the system is needed for our children to be thankful for what they have. Organise a family outing in Singapore to serve those staying in one-room flats, for instance, and show that focusing only on ourselves is a selfish pursuit. The end goal is not for you to compare yourselves to those with less, lest your children compare themselves to those with more. The goal is for them to learn contentedness, not comparison.
If you are the child
Reading this, you may already be a teenager or a young adult, and it is commendable if you want to effect change. The above principles are still applicable, such as making it a family effort by involving your parents in weaning you off their financial support. You can also ‘work for it’ on your own volition and go a step further, for example, by covering a certain percentage of household expenses each month. At the same time, seek out role models who can influence you to become a more grateful person. You might also aim to help the less fortunate as this helps you work on being less entitled and more thankful. When you break that sense of entitlement, serving others becomes no longer or less of a chore.
Speaking of chores, our son just enlisted for national service. We now need to redistribute the household chores again but as a family, we’re not sweating it.
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