When Helping Is Hurting: What NOT to Do for Our Kids

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By Arlyn Lawrence

What parents don’t want their children to enjoy a great life? We want them to be happy. We want them to be successful. But, here’s the rub. In a genuine effort to help our kids be happy and successful, we parents can do things that actually work against our objectives.

Say I am a mom of a hungry toddler. I say, “Joey, do you want a banana or some grapes?” But Joey doesn’t want a banana or grapes. Joey wants a mango. I tell Joey he needs to eat what is offered to him and he pitches a fit.  Now what?  Say I send Dad out to the store to buy a mango.  Now Mom and Dad are happy because Joey’s happy.  Everybody’s happy, right? Wrong. If I continue this style of parenting throughout Joey’s life, what do you think Joey will grow up thinking?

How about:

  • He will always have choices
  • He doesn’t have to comply with what he is told to do
  • Mom will always advocate for him to get his way and come out on top
  • Other people are there to serve him, not the other way around
  • If he complains enough, others will eventually give in

Granted, this scenario is overly simplistic (and I really don’t have a toddler named Joey), but here’s the point: Out of our desire to provide the best for our children (and keep them happy), some of our parenting methods may be contributing to their perception that the world revolves around them. If this is the case, they’re in for a rude awakening when they leave home and find that the world owes them nothing. And this is exactly what is happening in our culture—in astronomical proportions.

“Entitlement” is what we call the attitude that other people owe us something—that we are deserving, regardless of whether we have done anything to earn it. It stems from the parenting style I just described and some undesirable consequences of the popular “self esteem movement.” As a result, children feel entitled to get their way, viewing rules as arbitrary and voluntary, their needs as paramount, and other people as existing to serve them. And we parents, unwittingly, can be the ones who are cultivating this mindset. Ouch!

My five children are between 16 and 27, so I’m seeing now the fruit of parenting decisions I made when they were little. This lesson looms large: We can’t set our kids up as the center of our universe and let them think the planets revolve around them. It may seem a short-term solution when they’re pitching a fit as a two-year old. But in the long run, it can come back to bite us—and them.

Arlyn Lawrence is the co-author of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World.  She is the mother of five grown children and grandmother to two. You can read more or order the book at www.parentingforthelaunch.com.

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