Balancing growing and changing personalities and interests makes having children and family life challenging. It becomes even more complex when families blend to include stepchildren, especially when those children seem entitled.
Parental attitudes and patterns most contribute to a child’s feelings of entitlement. While you can’t control what happens with the other parent, you and your partner can try to model the behavior and attitudes you want to see.
So, how do you deal with entitled stepchildren? Read on for some ideas for both assessing and addressing entitlement.
Why are your stepchildren feeling entitled?
To find the best approach, try to identify where their unsavory behavior is coming from. Entitlement is the belief that you’re deserving of certain privileges.
Many parenting experts report a rise in spoiled children resulting from parents doing too much – trying to make every event special, removing every obstacle, and being too indulgent. As a result, those children lack the adverse experiences that build resiliency. Instead, they expect to get what they want.
Here are some common signs of entitlement:
- Refuses to help around the house
- Fails to take accountability and shifts blame
- Expects frequent rewards and bribes
- Feels above the rules
- Doesn’t think there will be consequences
- Can’t handle disappointment
- Is most concerned about himself
- The expectation of instant gratification
- Discomfort with frustration
A lot of these sound like typical behaviors for kids ranging from toddlers to teenagers. But, if you think your stepchild’s behavior is going too far, it’s time to look a little closer.
Maybe the source of their entitlement is you, one of their parents, or even grandparents with whom they spend a lot of time. Regardless, there are some different steps you can try to shift their behavior and outlook.
1. You and your partner should spend quality time with them.
It can be easy to fall victim to the capitalist trap of relying on things to express your feelings. Try shaping your family to value experiences more than stuff – in short, spend time together.
Part of making this successful is learning more about your stepchild and finding ways to spend time with them doing things they enjoy. Hint: Don’t try to make your non-athletic stepchild play sports with you or join your fitness routine.
Spending time in nature is an excellent idea. Gardening, outdoor movies, easy hikes, or time at a pool or water park can be good places to start.
Be open to trying something that fits your stepchild’s interests or something new to all of you.
2. Practice gratitude and gratefulness
Children often mirror what they see, and you can set an example of appreciation for what you have.
Positive emotions like gratitude shape beneficially shape the brain and the body. Gratitude can help you build better relationships, balance negative emotions, and spur kind behavior.
The easiest step for building a gratitude habit is simply noticing the things in your life that make you happy, whether it’s a nice day, a family pet, a good meal, or a warm house in a cold winter storm.
3. Evaluate your own spending
While you can’t control what happens in another parent’s home, your household can set an example of budgeting and allocating resources for experiences or things that really matter.
Science tells us that shopping makes you happy. It stimulates the senses, gives us feelings of control, distracts us from anxiety, and even releases dopamine–it makes us feel good.
Are you or your partner impulse shopping to get those feelings for yourselves? If so, it’s going to be hard to address your stepchild’s desire for things before you manage your own.
Rather than telling your stepchild to live up to some lofty ideals, be real in discussions with them about your values and goals for your money. Maybe you look at thrift shops before buying new (if you don’t already, give this a try – not only is it economical, it’s important for sustainability). Or, maybe you limit your spending on clothes or eating out to save money for vacations.
4. Be conscientious about spending money on the child
Is your or your partner’s spending for your stepchild contributing to their entitlement? Parents often overspend on their children in a mistaken belief it gives the child a leg up, makes up for a lack of time spent together or gives the children what the parent didn’t have growing up.
Plus, it can be so satisfying and fun to buy gives for your children or stepchildren. You get that dopamine rush for yourself without the guilt of giving yourself something, but it could be contributing to attitude and behavior issues.
Try not to over-indulge in gift-giving for holidays and birthdays and avoid unnecessary gift-giving. It will take practice to strike the right balance for your family and budget. And, that balance can change over time as you see progress.
There’s no need to artificially create scarcity or feelings of poverty in your household. Instead, try to help your stepchild prioritize their wants, identify the differences between wants and needs, and understand the true cost of items – including their financial, environmental, and social impact.
5. Reconsider allowances
There are a ton of methods and schools of thought regarding allowances, and it might be time to reconsider which one you follow.
Allowances are beneficial. They can start children down the road of a healthy relationship with money, give them some independence and responsibility, and help them understand priorities and budgeting.
However, just as you don’t receive money for nothing, neither should your child. Condition an allowance on the completion of responsibility.
And, just as importantly, combine an allowance with financial education. If you don’t feel so qualified to deliver those lessons on your own, enlist the aid of Milton, the Money Savvy Pup for little kids. Milton teaches children about the challenges of earning money and making decisions.
Children often pick up unhealthy money habits from their parents. If your whole household could use a boost of financial literacy, check out some of Wondrium’s financial literacy courses.
6. Model charity and service
Rather than using the less fortunate as punishment, engage as a family in activities that make the world better.
Entitled behavior and thinking are very “me” focused. Scientists have long known that the teenage brain is hardwired to be self-absorbed, so you’re not alone if you’re struggling with a teenage stepchild.
During adolescence, teenagers develop crucial components of their self-identities, and you can help make awareness of the greater world part of that identity.
Help your stepchild determine their values and interests by introducing them to different causes. It doesn’t have to be a day in the soup kitchen. They could write letters to elected officials, foster a shelter dog, or volunteer through one of the dozens of organizations like Habitat for Humanity or the American Red Cross.
7. Set boundaries and stand firm
Sometimes your boundaries will cause disappointment, but wavering from them will reinforce that rules don’t apply and prevent them from developing the resilience they need to grow into strong adults able to weather life’s ups and downs.
Consider setting boundaries around money. Some parents find success with providing basic necessities and amenities but require that the teen chip in for extras through chores, good grades, or with their own money earned from work.
8. Try to understand the child’s perspective
Try to see your stepchild as something more than a spoiled brat. Entitlement can be an effort to avoid difficult situations and emotions like disappointment and adversity.
And it may take less than you take to end up with a child with a bit of an entitlement issue, so try not to paint either parent as a monster. Reluctance to tell a child no, rewards for just showing up, treats for behaving, and giving a child too much say can all contribute to entitlement challenges.
As such, try to get your partner to own up to their contributions to the current situation to help your stepchild see that nobody is trying to attack or blame them. Instead, help them see that it’s important for them to grow.
Children with entitlement issues can lack the resilience and problem-solving skills needed in adulthood. This can lead to problems in the workplace and romantic relationships and even increase their risk for addiction.
9. Teach them (and yourself) about privilege
At its core, entitlement is a feeling of a right to certain privileges.
Bring diversity into your child’s life by visiting new places, taking in unfamiliar cultures, and learning about other ways of living.
Learning about systemic racism and how to be an ally can help your stepchild be more aware of their behavior and beliefs and how they impact others. Consider what type of example your behavior sets.
10. Consider therapy
Remember that you’re never on your own with tough parenting issues.
You and your partner could work with a therapist to evaluate and shift your parenting styles to address your stepchild’s troubles.
Therapy is a great tool for self-reflection and growth, so it could also be time to help your teen find a therapist to start their own work.
How to talk to the other biological parent about your stepchild
Blended family dynamics are sensitive, so approach any conversation with the other parent with caution. Make sure that your partner is on board, and it’s probably best for your partner to initiate the conversation.
Rather than cast blame or rehash the past, focus your efforts on the future and try to identify areas where all of you can be consistent with the child. Can you all agree on no video games until chores are done? Or to limit the child’s spending money?
Last of all – Be patient
As you try to implement some changes, know that it will take time. Expect pushback and periods of regression as well as growth. None of us change overnight, and childhood and adolescents are a complex, bumpy ride.