The Entitlement-Free Child
Parenting would be so much easier if there were a chart for how much is enough: a kindergartener needs two and a half hours of extracurricular activities per week; birthday gifts for four-year-old classmates should not exceed twenty-five dollars; and six-year-olds can manage three projects before becoming apathetic and careless. Unfortunately, no one can quantify "enough" across the board. Each child is an individual, with individual strengths and interests. Each child has different abilities and motivations, and all children do not need the same things or the same experiences. One child may have a collection of hundreds of cars, dolls, or dinosaurs. This child meticulously studies and appreciates every piece in the collection while another child grows bored after the third one. This other child might truly treasure one object. For one child, one is enough; for another, one hundred is just right. For some who prefer open spaces and imagination to toys, none is the right number.
A perfect childhood is not made up of a certain number of toys, books, outfits, and family vacations. You can give your child the best-researched, state-of-the-art educational toys or you can give your child a pile of dirt and giant cardboard box-either one might be enough for your child. You know how much is enough by observing your child. In general, if your child appreciates what is hers, values what is hers, age-appropriately cares for what is hers, and shows respect for what belongs to others, your child isn't suffering from overindulgence. If you're worried, though, look for these signs of potential excess:
- Does your child beg for new toys and then discard them quickly?
- Does your child focus more on quantity than on the actual object?
- Does your child lose things haphazardly and never miss them?
- Does your child know how to handle objects with care?
- Does your child grow bored quickly with what she has?
- Does your child measure her things against what others have?
- Does your child place more emphasis on things than on people?
Your child is forming lifelong attitudes about "enough" by as young as two and three years old. The entitlement child never learns the difference between needs and wants and never learns that ownership has responsibility. These may sound like complex concepts for two- and three-year-olds, but they aren't.
A child learns to be entitlement-free in ordinary situations like accidentally breaking a favorite toy. The entitlement parent rushes out to replace the toy. The entitlement-free parent might say something neutral, like, "Oops, you broke your toy. It won't be the same now." In this case, the child hears the consequence of her action: the toy is broken. There are many entitlement-free problem-solving strategies that can follow: show the child how to play with the broken toy in a different way, try to repair the toy, replace it when it's convenient to do so, or find something else to play with. Each possible solution teaches something important to the child: that ownership has responsibility and possessions have value.