The Root of the Entitlement Mentality Part II

A long time ago I promised a sequel to my post “The Root of the Entitlement Mentality.” I never delivered on that promise, mainly because it was very hard for me to pinpoint exactly what is at the root of the entitlement mentality. And I feel that I still may not have gotten to the root of the issue, but I do have insights that I did not have during the writing of the previous post. This is mainly due to my research into classroom management, showing children respect, and the effect of punishments and rewards.

Showing children respect is a major pet peeve of mine, and has been since I have begun doing research into proper methods of disciplining children. I think that one of the major issues regarding the lack of respect afforded to children is a widespread misunderstanding as to what discipline actually is. The majority of parents and teachers today view discipline as a system where good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished.

Children tend to view all of the things they do as a means to a certain end. In most children, the task itself is the means and the end, meaning that they tend to get pleasure from doing the task itself. When teachers introduce punishments and rewards, the child’s focus when doing a task changes. The child performs the task as a means to receive a punishment or reward; the end becomes trying to please the teacher.Tasks that once were enjoyable to the child now have no meaning to them other than as a way to gain approval, and thus become unrelated to independent self-fulfillment . Because children are not actively practicing self-fulfillment (because they are looking for rewards from other people), they develop an intense need for attention, as well as an affirmation of self-worth from anyone around them. Because of their increased need for attention, either punishment or reward is validating because either makes a statement of worth to the child. Rewards, of course, send a message of positive worth and punishment a message of negative worth.

We may ask ourselves at this point: “Well, I see why punishment is bad, but what is so wrong with rewards?” Because children begin actively looking for rewards or punishments for their actions, they come to expect them. We perpetuate this cycle as children get older through giving out grades and extra credit. By the time these children reach adulthood, they come to expect some sort of punishment or reward for their actions, no matter how large or small the action is. The small rewards begin to lose their ability to offer the message of self-worth; bigger rewards are needed to provide the same feeling of satisfaction that the small rewards once did.

This is how the entitlement mentality is manifested, and it begins at an early age – at the age that punishments are rewards are introduced. This cycle can be stopped, or even reversed, as we discontinue the use of punishments are rewards. This brings us back to the definition of discipline. I was actually surprised when I looked up the word, because several definitions actually listed punishment as a part of discipline. However, there is another way to look at this word: according to dictionary.com, to discipline someone is to train by instruction and exercise. This means that if a child does something that is dangerous to themselves or others, we need to instruct them in the right way to handle the situation. This involves explaining to them what the proper action is, as well as explaining to them why their action was wrong. In this way we awaken in the child their own thought processes and allow them to own their own behavior. We also do not pass a judgement of positive or negative value when we offer our explanations, because that would put us back in the realm of issuing a punishment or reward. Our ultimate goal is to teach the child what the correct action would be in a given situation and help them to remember that action in the future. They will then continue to use the proper action and build upon it as they grow and develop.

We should also allow children a chance to play-act situations in the classroom. One girl in my class loves to pretend that her baby-doll has hit someone in the classroom, and it is amazing to watch her discuss problem-solving strategies with the doll. This is her way of internalizing what she has been taught; by practicing what she has learned through the use of a baby-doll, she will be better able to call upon her newly-learned skills when they are needed.

Doing away with the entitlement mindset, punishments, and rewards in the classroom is not easy. We almost seem programmed to say, “Good job” when a child does something (which is a positive value judgement). One thing that I have taught myself to do is make observations rather than statements that indicate a judgement. Pointing out the colors that a child used in a drawing, or indicating that you see the action that they are performing can go a long way in helping a child to develop independence and a sense of self-fulfillment through their actions. These types of statements also teach vocabulary and let the child know that you notice them or their work. Ultimately, it is up to the child to determine the value of their work; this will enhance their own self-actualization and their development into strong, independent adults who do not need approval from outside sources tot ell them that they are doing a good job. They will gain self-respect and self-fulfillment through their work because they enjoy doing it – which is also a topic for another day.

For more information:

Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism by Jerry Kirkpatrick

Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn

Interest and Effort in Education by John Dewey

Young Children Don’t Understand Generalities

“No way!” you say, quite sarcastically. “Tell me something I don’t know!”

But wait a moment…

How many times have you told your child, “Clean your room!” and then expect them to do it? And then they don’t? And then you get frustrated and angry and start issuing threats or bribes in hopes that your child will clean their room? I’ve done it every time I’ve told my daughter to clean her room, and I’ve done it all the time in my classroom. What ends up happening is your child gets upset and you are worn out mentally, trying to figure out what it will take to get them to clean their room.

What if all you need is a change in your choice of vocabulary? The word “clean” is a generality, especially when it comes to cleaning something as vast as a room. There are many, many steps involved in cleaning a room, especially if your child’s room ends up looking like my daughter’s when she is done playing in it. This massive amount of steps makes the term “clean” much too general for many young children.

What about the phrase “put your toys away”? Well, where is “away”? It really could be anywhere, including in the middle of the floor. This is another generality that young children will not understand.

What I have found, and the method that I have started using at home as well as in my classroom, is that children need everything spelled out for them. As Denzel Washington’s character says in the movie Philadelphia, “Now, explain it to me like I’m a four-year-old.” What is implied here is that everything needs to be spelled out at this age, and the implication is true.

Here is how I have changed my vocabulary so that my daughter and the children in my classroom will understand what is being asked of them:

  1. Start with the child’s name. This is an attention-getter. If you say their name, they are more likely to give you their full attention. If you don’t get their attention, keep saying their name until you have their full attention, or cut their access to whatever it is that is taking their attention from you (such as the TV or a specific toy).
  2. After you say their name, give them a specific command. Rather than saying, “Put your toys away” or even “Put that toy in the bin,” say “Put that toy airplane in your toybox” or “Put that block on the shelf”.
  3. Use arm and hand gestures. Point to what you want the child to do. This adds another element to it. The child now has two senses working in order to decipher what you want: hearing (listening to the command) and sight (looking at what you want). The more of their senses that you can put to use, the more of their brain is engaged in figuring out what you want, and the more likely it will be that they will be successful in fulfilling your request.

It really is this easy. Using this method has cut down the amount of time it takes my class to clean up the classroom after play time, and it has cut down the amount of time that it takes my daughter to clean her room. At first it will take a lot from you as a parent or teacher, but what I have found since I started using this method two or three weeks ago is that, after a while, the children start to clean up on their own without you standing there pointing at everything all of the time. But because you have stood there and showed them so many times, you have taught them what you expect when you tell them to clean their room.

Next time you tell your child to do something, try to avoid using generalities that your child will not understand, and opt for using more specific language. I guarantee that your life and your child’s life will be a lot happier for it.