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Entitled Kids

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

4 Ways To Avoid It in Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

Children are most definitely entitled to certain things at birth. Nourishment, safety, shelter, and medicine are some of them. In my opinion, kids are also entitled to love, learning, and play. (Brazelton/Greenspan 2000)

Nobody, however, wants to raise a child who thinks they're entitled to a lot more than others or one who doesn't have a clue that they should have to work for the things that they want. Here's a good definition of the type of entitlement I'm talking about from Amy McCready, and Dr. Ruth Milanaik.

“Typically, entitled kids believe the world revolves around them, that things should be done for them, and that paths should be cleared for them without them putting in much effort. Signs of entitlement include not taking ‘no’ for an answer and acting helpless when they're not. When an entitled kid messes up, he expects to be rescued. He tends to not be grateful for what he has, and he finds it difficult to be content. Also, he requires constant entertainment. Any child on the planet will exhibit these characteristics from time to time, but if you’re seeing them as a regular pattern, you should ask, ‘Is this an entitlement issue?” -McCready

So, if you're in any way responsible for the care and education of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, this is on you. Not to be overly harsh but because of recent brain development research, what you choose to do and say to them at this point in their early development really does matter greatly.

In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second. After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, which allows brain circuits to become more efficient. In light of these findings, focussing on early childhood only makes sense. -Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University-

It's possible to actively teach kids to develop the emotional and social skills they need in order to avoid the entitlement trap and take responsibility for what they do. It's a whole lot easier when we start early. I know because I've been doing it and studying about it for the past 43+ years.

Here are a few things that you, too, can do if you too think it might be a good idea to start early in life (0-8).

#1 Emotions

Don't let them think they're the only ones with feelings.

Help them to identify their own and others' emotions. This can help them move from egotistical infants to loving toddlers to caring preschoolers to empathetic adults.

Laptime is the easiest and the most enjoyable way to start this.

What is Laptime? Laptime is time spent reading or talking about emotions in close physical contact with your child. It's time spent together, looking at books or magazines, reading and speculating how characters, ourselves, or others in the world might feel.

It's also chatting about facial, body, and language expressions that help us know what others are experiencing outside of ourselves. It's based on this premise that all feelings are OK, all actions (and words) are not.

#2 Boundaries

Learn to set boundaries that work. "I" messages are the easiest, most straightforward way to do this with very young children and everyone. If you don't know how to use "I" messages to be clear and teach emotional boundaries, you can learn more about it in my 2021 article Setting Boundaries here.

#3 Problem Solving

Don't solve their problems for them. Instead, you can teach them to do it for themselves. Talk them through that puzzle, let them struggle a bit trying to mount that riding toy, and let them learn to climb the ladder first in order to enjoy the slide.

If we do everything for them, we really do put them at a disadvantage when compared to kids who've had to figure things out on their own. They just might feel entitled to have someone else do it for them if that's what they're used to.

Still, don't ever ignore their struggles or give them more than they can handle. Always give them the least possible amount of help they need to succeed. (Vygotsky ) In that way, they'll start to understand the feelings of working hard in order to achieve what they want instead of having it handed to them on a silver platter.

As an early childhood and parent educator, I've used the Plan, Do, Review method developed by the High Scope Foundation and it really does help kids when they take part in more of the process. It's so much more realistic that way. Plus, it always helps kids with self-regulation when they're able to plan ahead. I'm including a link to the High Scope Foundation in the citations below so you can check it out.

The difficult part about helping a child learn to do some things on their own is helping them learn to cope with the frustration they're bound to feel. In order to help them to get through their frustration, give them a word for it.

Once it has a name they can become aware of when it's happening to them and they might be able to deal with it better. They might decide to quit, take a break, or try a different approach.

Some kids benefit from taking a break and telling themselves they can do it. It's all about that tape in their heads but here's a helpful twist. According to both Psychology Today and early childhood guru Dr. Becky Bailey, it helps our chances of success when we use our own name to address ourselves, like saying, "Nanci, you know you can do this!"

A brain imaging study suggests that when you think about a bad memory or see something aversive, talking to yourself in the third person activates brain areas involved in self-control less than if you talk in the first person. You may need to use less self-control to regulate emotions when you say, “Hey [insert your name here], it’s okay. You’ve got this,” compared to, “I’ve got this.”-Psychology Today

#4 Responsibility

Try to see responsibility as a response to their ability. Watch them carefully to see what they can and can't do. Then you can ask them to live up to it with support, of course!

I often tell children that responsibility is different than cooperation. I say that cooperation is good because it means you're listening but that responsibility is even better because it means you're doing it without being reminded.

Then when I see them washing their hands or saying thank you without being told I give them the kudos they deserve for remembering to do what they know is right.

And I often say, "That was helpful!"

The opposite of feeling entitled is feeling like a useful contributor to something good.

Another way to teach kids responsibility is to let them make some mistakes. Stop bailing them out and do it early on in their lives.

When the mom of an absent-minded second-grader asked me if I thought she should bring his homework to school when he forgot, I told her that although I understood her strong feelings about not wanting to let him fail, I wouldn't bring it because receiving the consequences of forgetting in second grade might stop him from having to feel the consequences of failing in college or at work.

The New Empathy as defined by me, Nanci J Bradley, is understanding plus action. In these crucial times, we’d be remiss if we forgot about the action part.

The New Empathy is a deep understanding that produces the ability to keep another’s perspective in mind while going after what one wants without harming anyone else and the ability to work effectively with others to reach shared goals without giving up one's own. In other words, non-violent communication plus action.-Nanci J. Bradley-

reflection: describe at least one way to teach young children empathy instead of entitlement


Bailey, Rebecca Anne. There's Gotta Be a Better Way: Discipline That Works! Loving Guidance, Inc., 2003.

Brazelton, T. Berry, and Stanley I. Greenspan. The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn, and Flourish. Perseus Pub., 2000.

“Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 4 Dec. 2017, Harvard Center for the developing mind,

Hohmann, Mary, et al. Young Children in Action: A Manual for Preschool Educators: The Cognitively Oriented Preschool Curriculum. High/Scope Press, 1979.

Karpov, Yuriy V. Vygotsky for Educators. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Lopez, Molly, Are You Raising An Entitled Child? 1/24/17

5 Ways to Use Positive Self-Talk to Psych Yourself Up/Positive self-talk could help you regulate emotions

Posted M psychology today March 25, 2021

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human dev from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI and is the founder of early childhood rocks, a non-profit org dedicated to creating change through early childhood education.

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