Scott Petersen, director of behavioral health for Bayless Healthcare Group in Phoenix, says that false sense of entitlement is bred through a parenting style that overindulges children, usually out of fear or out of a lack of patience on the part of the parent. And it all starts out innocently enough in the infancy stage.
“When babies come into the world, they only eat, sleep, cry and void,” he says. “The crying in particular is a survival technique because it increases distress in the parents. A baby is only trying to message the parents—‘I have a need,’ ‘I’m hungry,’ or ‘I’m tired’—and the parents’ job is to decipher that message.”
Petersen says parents eventually learn what their baby’s cry means and how to comfort their child accordingly. But when children get older and parents start saying “no” more frequently, kids start anticipating their parents’ reactions. They learn that if they behave a certain way, they’ll get a certain reaction from their parents, he says.
Consider what happens when a parent constantly checks on a baby, who, despite being clean, fed and properly tended to, continues to cry after being put down for a nap.
“You’re training the baby to become a marathon crier,” Petersen says.
Like that discontented baby, older children learn that if they cry or throw temper tantrums, parents may give in and they may get their way, he notes. And children who are not lovingly redirected early on may fail to grow out of such behavior.
“They’ve trained their parents to be intimidated by them, they’re still living at home in their 20s and they’re threatening to destroy the house if they don’t get what they want,” Keefe adds, noting that parents often don’t help children make that transition to adulthood because they, too, believe they “owe” their children something.
He says he knows parents never intend to raise children in this fashion, but the truth is it’s easier for parents already overtasked and overwhelmed by health, relationship or financial issues to give in to a child and his or her demands. And most anyone raising a child understands those moments of vulnerability.
“Most parents have those days,” he says.
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