By Rabbi Yitzie Ross

My children are spoiled. I have no problem admitting it, although my husband disagrees. They think that if we don’t give them something they want, we’re being unfair to them. My husband feels that we should give in since they’ll mature as they get older. We decided to follow your advice on this.

Karen
Flatbush

I have news for you: Many adults also feel that if they don’t get what they want, life is unfair. We live in a society where many people feel a sense of entitlement, and it’s absolutely nauseating. However, there is a difference between spoiling children and creating a sense of entitlement.

Spoiling children is giving them things that they don’t need but enjoy. Usually grandparents do this, and I’ve received many e-mails from frustrated parents who seem to have forgotten how much fun grandparents can be. Many children who are “spoiled” end up living normal and healthy lives. Obviously, there are those parents who give in to their children more easily than others. Parents who spoil their children don’t like to say “no” but will come down on their children at times. A spoiled child can be very well-mannered and easygoing at a friend’s house. So a little bit of spoiling won’t necessarily be harmful.

Entitlement is a lot worse. Children who feel entitled won’t help out around the house even when asked. They never accept blame and require a bribe for almost any act. They feel that they are above rules, and don’t deal well with disappointment. Entitled children usually aren’t good playdates and tend to require a lot of attention. Children like this very often have issues as they get older. They refuse to get a job and insist on receiving support. Parents of entitled children rarely tell their children “no.”

You need to ask yourselves if you’re spoiling or entitling your children. If you’re just spoiling them, it’s not hard to stop. All you need to do is begin treating your children like children. Tell them what to do; don’t ask their opinion. Show them love but be firm. Don’t buy them everything that they desire. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with spoiling children a little bit; becoming too strict can have pretty serious consequences as well, especially if you were easygoing and decided to become tougher. The key to striking a balance is to always show your children how much you care.

Children who are entitled are usually a bit older. There’s no definitive age, but becoming tougher with them won’t necessarily work. They might overreact, and this can quickly spiral out of control. If you really believe your children feel entitled, it would be wise to seek the advice of a mental-health professional. It usually does not resolve itself if left alone; on the contrary, it gets worse as they get older.

I would like to address the point your husband made about them maturing as they get older. Approximately 10 years ago, I was in a shul in Florida. I ended up sitting behind two men who looked to be in their late eighties. They were having a loud discussion about who showers more often, but I figured they were joking around. A few minutes later, a third man walked in. The first two looked at him and began accusing him of (I’m embarrassed to write this) passing gas. They were using an immature term, one used frequently by children in the fourth grade. They didn’t let up. What took the cake was when the third man told them, “I’m telling the rabbi on you!”

At that time, I had an epiphany: People do not necessarily mature with age. These men were just as immature as fourth-graders and were not embarrassed. Maturing is a process that comes from healthy social interaction and observing others, amongst other factors. Happy moments, sad occasions, and even frustrating circumstances all are opportunities for growth and maturation.

The key factor here is how the parents deal with a situation. There are always opportunities for parents to help children mature by raising their awareness and sensitivity to what is going on around them. For example, let’s say your daughter witnessed her friend being embarrassed. If you tell her, “Poor kid” and walk away, you’re missing out on a maturing opportunity. Rather, you can say, “I wonder how she felt? Is there anything that could have been done to prevent this from happening?” In this way you’re helping your child mature by giving her the opportunity to think about what happened and grow from the experience.

Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly e‑mails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com

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