How to build up a confident child and what are the warning signs of self-entitlement?

We often hear statements like “kids these days are so self-entitled”, and might even spout a few of these lines ourselves when we encounter a petulant child. On the other hand there are also children with low self-confidence who behave in the exact opposite. They don’t believe they have what it takes, and they don’t even try. How can we balance these two extremes?

These extremes may cause mental distress such as anxiety or depression and not even trusting their own abilities.

As parents and educators, we want to build confidence in our children, yet avoid creating a sense of entitlement. How can we balance these two extremes?

How do you recognise when a child shows signs of self-entitlement?

Well-meaning parents have created an unrealistic environment in the home. Children may have received lots of praise and not be expected to do any hard work. After all, we all want “happy children”. Yet, parents may have inadvertently raised self-entitled children through overpraising, giving into demands, overprotecting, not setting rules and excusing bad behaviour.

When a child misbehaves, we excuse them with “it’s ok, he’s still a child.” We may start off saying this while they are just toddlers, but find that we can’t change their behaviour when they become older. As in the Chinese saying, 修树要趁早,育人要趁小, desirable behaviour should be nurtured from young.

Building confident children vs self entitlement

Signs of entitlement include the following behaviours:

  1. Lack of gratitude/empathy: A self-entitled child may have little or no appreciation for the things they have, take things for granted and not show gratitude or acknowledge the effort invested in their activities or possessions. They also show a lack of empathy towards others and may not understand or care about the feelings or needs of others.

  2. Demands instead of requests / feel superior: A self-entitled child may demand without asking politely or make requests. They may be disrespectful, and expect that others will automatically comply with their wishes without question.

  3. Blaming others for their mistakes: A self-entitled child may have a tendency to blame others when things go wrong. They lack the virtue of responsibility for their actions. They may feel that others should fix the problems.

In addition, a self-entitled child may also have unrealistic expectations such as rewards and recognition when they have not earned it. Some of these behaviours are normal as children grow and learn, but if they persist and become a pattern, it may indicate a sense of entitlement.

The Cure For Entitlement – Humility

The opposite of self-entitlement is humility. Humility is the quality of being humble and having a modest or low view of oneself. It involves recognising and accepting one’s limitations, being grateful for what one has, and showing respect and kindness towards others.

Cultivating humility in children is essential so that they understand that they are not entitled to anything, and that everything they have is a result of hard work, effort, and the support of their parents, teachers, etc.

By doing so, children would not expect special treatment or privileges, but instead, work hard to achieve their goals and appreciate the contributions of others. They are also willing to admit their mistakes, take responsibility for their actions, and learn from their failures.

Building confident children vs self entitlement

How can we build confident and not self-entitled children?

As educators, parents or caregivers, we can help them by teaching them:

  1. The value of hard work, and how to develop a strong work ethic:
    Instead of focusing solely on achievements, celebrate the effort and hard work that your child puts into everything they do. This helps them learn that it’s not just about the results or outcome, but the process and effort they put in.

  2. Don’t overpraise, but highlight specific behaviours and actions. For example, “I’m so proud of you for practising your math today” is more effective than just saying “you’re so smart.” This helps your child understand what is desirable behaviour and to repeat those actions in the future, and not be overly reliant on external validation.

  3. To show gratitude, respect for others and empathy: Encourage your child to be grateful for the things they have, and to learn to put themselves in other’s shoes.

  4. Responsibility and problem-solving: Help your child understand that their actions have consequences and teach them to take responsibility for their actions. This helps them develop a sense of accountability and a willingness to correct mistakes.

  5. Encourage autonomy by letting your child find solutions to problems on their own. This helps them develop a sense of independence and self-reliance.
Building confident children vs self entitlement

Challenges of Consistency

While attempting to provide autonomy to our children, we need to remember to be consistent with both rewards and consequences – Sometimes a parent tries to teach a child about consequences, but steps in to reward or punish inconsistently.

For example, a child is allowed to play on the condition they keep their toys afterwards. However, when the child failed to keep their toys, the parent added another “bribe” such as giving the child ice cream after dinner if they would keep their toys.

Rather than punishing the child for not following the original rules, the parent adds on a reward. Soon the child learns that they can push their boundaries to get what they want, and parents have to suffer instead by adding more and more rewards to get their child to listen. Over time, the child may learn that “I don’t have to do anything I don’t feel like doing”, or is unable to correct their mistakes, which is an attitude of entitlement.

By encouraging effort, specific behaviours, and problem-solving, while also setting clear boundaries and teaching responsibility, you can help your child develop a healthy sense of confidence without entitlement.

Consistency has to be practised by all persons involved in bringing up the child. Manipulation will set in with inconsistency in parenting/child-minding. The child will know who to go to when he/she wants his/her way.

Building confident children vs self entitlement

Low Self-Confidence and it’s cure – Autonomy

As we talk about autonomy, let’s jump to the other end – children with low self-esteem or confidence. Such children can also benefit from autonomy, though it seems counterintuitive. By providing your child with a clear set of boundaries and expectations, you are communicating to your child that you believe that they actually are capable of a task, thus you would be helping them develop their confidence.

When a child fails, do we rush to console them and make them feel better by allowing them to quit or overprotect them by stopping the activity? Overdoing this, may lead the child to subconsciously believe that they cannot actually succeed – because their parents have subconsciously communicated their disbelief as well.

We know that parents are afraid to pressurise their children further, but perhaps there can be a balance in between. Sit down with your child to problem-solve and find ways to push through the problem and improve the next round.

The point to note is that if our kids don’t learn how to overcome life’s struggles now, then they may grow into young adults who are either entitled or not confident.
Building confident children vs self entitlement

So where do we fit in?

Parents and caregivers are key players in helping to decrease entitlement and build confidence in children by consistently holding high expectations for them, while giving proper support, such as being there to celebrate achievements, and giving praise on specific behaviours.

These expectations have to be balanced. Setting excessively high expectations without proper support or guidance can lead to stress and anxiety in children, particularly if they feel they are unable to meet it.

While having consistently low expectations means children are not given the opportunity to strive for excellence or challenged to reach their full potential. They may begin to believe that they are not capable of achieving anything significant. This can lead to a lack of motivation and a diminished sense of self-worth.

Overall, building a confident child requires a balance between praise and responsibility, and we have a big role to play in setting our expectations and guiding our children well.

We wish you the best as we strive to create such balance in every area of our lives and in our children.

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