It’s not all about you!

Yield sign

My high school English teacher is one of the smartest people I know.  I remember getting a quiz back with a pretty low grade and the comment “Use your brain!!!” on it in big red letters.  She clearly knew I was brilliant but not performing up to my abilities—at least that’s the story I had in my head.  I’m fairly sure I was the student I currently object to the most: the entitled student.  The student that thinks he deserves a good grade for showing up.  The student that doesn’t respect the teacher’s authority, because it’s all about him.

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According to the Oxford dictionary, entitlement is the fact of having a right to something OR the belief that one is inherently deserving of special privileges or treatment.

What’s so bad about a sense of entitlement?  Aside from resulting in some obnoxious attitudes and behaviors, it keeps us from giving the best of ourselves.  It prevents us from giving to others and from living up to the potential we all have.

So, operating from the assumption that this sense of entitlement is not a desirable trait, let’s define traits that run counter to that.  We would argue that cultivating the character traits of humility, responsibility, and gratitude will help keep kids (all of us, really!) from displaying entitled behaviors.

How can we as parents develop these positive attributes in our children?

Setting an example

We are the parents, and we have authority, but we try to consistently earn the respect of our child. We need to be humble, responsible, and grateful if we expect her to be.  We don’t need to give her the old, “Do as we say, not as we do” BS.

We also talk about our own circumstances, so we can try to model good traits.  When one of us applied for a new job and didn’t get it, we talked about that in front of our daughter.  We talked about how opportunities that don’t work out always result in something even better for us in the future.  We pondered about how the person getting the job is, hopefully, getting exactly what he needed.  (Because, you know…it’s not all about us!)  We acknowledged our disappointment, but we couched it in these terms, so that she would see us modeling perspective, humility, and even gratitude for a “no” answer.

Understanding your audience

Do you tend to rule with an iron fist?  Or do you involve your children in the reasoning behind every rule you have?  Clearly, there are times for both, but I don’t think one way works for all occasions.  Many times, it’s a progression.  Iron fist rule—think about firmly grasping your toddler’s hand in a busy parking lot.  As they grow, however, you incorporate the reasoning behind parking lot safety—“You’ll get skished and die” (maybe your reasoning was a little softer than mine, but you get the point).

Where are your children developmentally?  Don’t be afraid to explain the why of what you are teaching them, when it’s appropriate.  This is how they learn to think AND to realize the things they are asked to do very often have reasons they may not see at first glance.

  • An aside from the What Not To Do File (that has nothing to do with entitlement, but has to do with knowing your audience): Explaining to your 20-month-old all the wonderful reasons why she shouldn’t be hitting the boy that is currently on the slide typically doesn’t work too well while she’s hitting the poor boy. That can come after you physically stop her from landing the next blow.  If you want to work on her form—“Now, if you really want some power, you have to get your lower body and your hips involved, like this…”—wait until you’re home; do not show her while the boy is still crying.  Some parents’ ideas of “teachable moments” are different from others.

Strategic allowance

I never put much thought into our daughter earning an allowance like my wife apparently did.  Lori didn’t want chores to be tied to money in a way that our daughter could decide the effort wasn’t worth the reward.  Our daughter was going to do the chores, whether or not she was paid for it.  So, she has to remember to do them without being told and keep track of them on a chart in order to get paid.  We are hoping to teach her that she’s not entitled to an allowance.  She will do the chores either way, but she is rewarded for taking the responsibility of making it happen on her own.

Taking them out of their bubble

I think a lack of empathy and understanding about the perspectives of others is part of an entitlement mindset.  Does your child experience others’ perspectives?  Does she know where she is situated in the world?  We strive to create opportunities for our daughter to learn these very things.  We talk about history, privilege, cultures, and various viewpoints.

For example, we volunteer as a family.  She learns so much from that, not the least of which is the perspective of how blessed she is.  She also learns empathy, the importance of service, and a sense of confidence in the fact that her hard work can make a difference.

It can be the little things too.  If she’s complaining about having to wait for the other students in math class to grasp a new concept, do we jump to praise how smart she is?  Or do we point out, “I’m glad you love math and want to practice every time we get in the car, but other students may not love it as much as you.  Do you remember how hard it was to control the soccer ball the first time you tried kicking it down the field in practice?  Do you think some of the other kids that had been playing soccer longer than you were frustrated that they had to wait for you?  So, instead of getting frustrated, what else can you do while you’re waiting?”

My high school English teacher taught me a lot more than just Dostoyevsky (which I could have done without).  By not giving me something I had not earned, she taught me how to expect more from myself.  She taught me life will not hand things to me without a little hard work, and now we strive to pass that on to our daughter and our students.   


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About author


Lori Smith and Scott Smith are higher education professionals with a combined 30 years experience working with college students. We also happen to be married to one another and are raising our own potential future college student.


  1. Celeste Smith says:

    Well done. Often, it is our most difficult times that teach us the most about ourselves. We learn nothing, nothing, when life is easy–when things are handed to us. Make no mistake, we can get used to getting something for nothing with astounding speed and come to expect it, but those experiences are empty. We only understand the value of the hard times later. What’s that old saying about hindsight? Proud of what both of you are doing here and with your lives and fairly certain that your English teacher will shed a tear when she reads this blog.

  2. Leigh Growney says:

    I am currently a high school English teacher; this post resonates with me so much it is unbelievable. I feel like I talk until I am blue in the face about the kids being entitled, but it never seems to do any good. It truly does all start at home, and unfortunately parents are raising children in a completely instantaneous culture. Our kids don’t know anything different than to expect an instant response or rewar. They don’t have to work much, as the world is at their finger tips. I LOVED your description of your daughter chores- she will do them. What she gets paid for is her initiative. I wish
    more people out there has this mindset!

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