From sports, to music, to theater and more….our kids have an endless supply of excellent extra-curricular activities at their fingertips. More than at any time in history! With this abundance, kids easily become a little (or a lot) self-focused and inclined to develop the dreaded “Entitlement” mentality unless we have been thoughtful and diligent to combat it.
Warding off the entitlement bug requires being very intentional about participation in extracurriculars, and how to guide your kids to feel more grateful and less entitled.
The first issue to address is about the “why?” – why do we participate in these activities? The answer to this question is the basis for cultivating either a sense of entitlement or a sense of gratitude and grand purpose. The answers might range anywhere from, “So I can develop good skills for life.” Or, “So I can fit in with other kids.” Or, “So I can get a college scholarship.” Each of these “why’s?” is common, but you’ll notice that each is self-focused.
This is the reason at the outset we invite parents to reconsider your “why?” Since God made us to be both recipients and dispensers of blessing, it is a great help to add to your “why?” another answer: “So that we can be a blessing!” That’s right! In the grand scheme of things, you are blessed with the opportunity of these activities so that you can be part of God’s plan to bless all people! Once parents and kids alike embrace the notion that any extracurricular activity is an opportunity to grow skills to bless the world and is an opportunity to be a blessing right now, the underlying drive to participate is now a grander purpose than our own benefit.
Then, there are some practical considerations for helping kids feel less entitled and more grateful. Below are 4 categories and a few ideas in each for how to start backing out of the patterns that lead to entitlement. Pick one or two and start changing the momentum with modeling, proactive teaching and lots of encouragement for any small steps of progress!
Help your kids feel more weight of ownership and responsibility.
- Involve kids in the decision making process and, if old enough, require them to contribute to costs.
- Help kids understand the money by setting budgets and buying used equipment when practical.
- Teach children to wash and care for their equipment, i.e. laundering uniforms, proper care of instruments.
- Give kids the responsibility for entering the activity into the family calendar.
- Put full responsibility on the kids to know what they need to do to be ready – and then leave on time with no nagging or repeated warnings. If kids aren’t ready on time, they miss their ride.
Cultivate respect and compassion.
- Teach kids to honor their coaches/teachers by looking them in the eye, listening carefully, and follow through on instructions without complaint.
- Let kids know that participating means they work hard even when they don’t get the opportunities they want or think they deserve.
- Have conversations with kids about how they might respond when they or another participant gets injured, feels sad about their performance, or even causes the team to lose.
- Have conversations about how to respond to the winner, even if your child is deeply disappointed.
- Encourage and support kids when you see them show respect and compassion.
Exemplify and nurture helpfulness and gratitude.
- When called on to volunteer, do so joyfully and involve your child if possible.
- Guide your kids to leave the activity space better than you found it.
- Help set up and clean up together for practices/rehearsals/lessons, and make it fun!
- With your child, look for opportunities to help teammates with anything from skills, to rides, to snacks, to funding.
- Make a habit (you and your kids) of writing thank you notes to the coach, instructor, or leader.
If a child is struggling with entitlement and poor sportsmanship, it’s important not to criticize or shame them, but to help them embrace some essential beliefs about life:
- They are loved and valued unrelated to their performance – even if forget their lines, flub their song, or the drop the ball and lose the game!
- All the other kids that participate are also valuable and precious to God unrelated to their performance.
- Participation in any activity is a gift, not a right.
- Every activity is an opportunity to serve others and develop the character which will benefit them greatly in their life.
As you little by little build these others-centered values into your participation, it will build eternal perspective and values in your kids!
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