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When Your Child Seems Ungrateful Or Entitled: How To Instill Empathy
  • All parents want to make sure their kids are happy and have everything they want and need. At the same time, when you give your child everything, you risk fostering an attitude of ungratefulness and entitlement in him.

    This is the dilemma faced by many parents. One mom asked parenting adviser, author, and consultant Janet Lansbury how to deal with it, and we think Lansbury’s response can be of great help to all other parents out there.

    This mom wrote, “Maybe it’s the post-holiday blues. Maybe it’s my inner feelings of horror at what children across the globe suffer and what they go without. I don’t know. When my children start acting entitled, I find it hardest of all to remain calm. How do you build a culture in your home of gratitude and humility? I model it when possible. How do you model this? How do you talk about it? I want to do better.”

    Lansbury begins by pointing out that this mom’s concern is ultimately about how you can develop empathy in a child. And just like what the mom says, modeling is a powerful way to instill values in your child. “Children learn most through what they experience in their relationships with their significant others, with us,” Lansbury says. “This has the most profound impact.”

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    Here are Lansbury’s tips to build empathy and avoid an ungrateful and entitled attitude in your child:

    1. Be curious.

    First, remember that there is always a reason why your child behaves the way he does. Lansbury says that kids’ behavior is “always a reflection on some level of their comfort, the feelings they have going on inside, their stress levels,” and if parents only consider this, they will be able to model with empathy even when their kids act ungrateful and entitled. Try to avoid the urge to judge your child when he exhibits ungrateful behavior; this can prevent you from being curious enough to figure out why your child is behaving that way.


    2. Be aware of your sensitivities.

    In her question, the mom mentions that her dilemma with her kids’ ungrateful and entitled behavior triggers her sensitivities over issues like the sufferings of children in other parts of the world. Lansbury says that being aware of your sensitivities will help you put your frustration over your child’s behavior in perspective, even if it might push your buttons.

    “So we can say: Okay, this is a sensitivity for me, but this isn’t really about my children and where they are. This is about me,” Lansbury explains. “And now I can work on putting it in its place so it doesn’t get in the way of me modeling that empathy for my children, and wanting to understand why they’re behaving the way they are.”

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    3. Give your child learning opportunities.

    Find ways to expose your child to situations that will foster empathy and compassion in him. These might include taking him with you to volunteer at a shelter or involving him in deciding how you can help an ailing neighbor. Even the simplest day-to-day moments can make a meaningful difference in your child.

    4. Model gratitude and humility.

    Lansbury says that some of the best modeling parents can do is in terms of humility and gratitude. When you lose your cool in front of your child, try saying something like, “I lost my patience with you. I don’t like the way that I acted and I’m really sorry.”

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