A parent I talked with was concerned about giving his child confidence and support without turning him into a “spoiled entitled monster.” First, spoiled, entitled, and confident are not ends of the same measure, but rather three entirely different yardsticks.
A spoiled child is one who has learned to work hard for what she gets. She must wheedle, whine, cry, and/or throw a tantrum for almost everything she wants. Her parent usually says ‘no’ to requests, but will change to ‘yes’ if the child creates enough drama. The amount of drama needed differs on any given day. This child is usually sensitive enough to her parent’s moods and energy level to not push at times that would result in punishment. She also knows which parent will give in quickest and soon learns how to play one adult against the other. An unspoiled child has learned that her parents keep their word, are fair and have sensible boundaries, though she will test everything at regular intervals.
An entitled child has not had the opportunity to outgrow the egocentric attitude he was born with. Babies use their cries, body language, and expectations to get their needs met. However, as they grow, they learn to be a contributing member of their family and then society. The entitled preschooler has not had to figure out things for himself, to wait for attention, or to not get his own way because someone always does everything for him. Adults have removed his challenges and learning opportunities. He hasn’t developed the problem-solving and interpersonal skills with which to meet his needs. The ‘unentitled’ child has learned to use social negotiation and good manners, along with accepting the reality that he does not always get what he wants. Hopefully, he has found reasons to remain optimistic in most instances. He still expects good things will happen because they do.
A child who lacks confidence is one whose life experience has been filled with unpleasant people and negative reinforcement. I have had children in my preschool classroom who believed that they weren’t good at dancing, drawing, or other typical activities. Children come to these conclusions because the adults in their lives point out what they are doing wrong instead of what they are doing right. A confident child is not afraid of failing. He’s been encouraged to “try again,” “to do the bit you can and get help with the rest,” and has heard that “some things just take more practice.” He’s been taught that not everything in life is a competition, but that working together and helping each other creates success and fun. (In case you are worried about such things, the confident child will compete with self-assurance when competitions are age-appropriate activities) Welcome to the age of the unspoiled, unentitled child brimming with self-confidence.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.