Wants vs. Needs: The Entitlement Trap

Teaching our children the difference between wants and needs can help them escape the entitlement trap. Such guidance equips them with gratitude and a heavenly radar for caring for others.

Discerning wants from needs

As a mom of four, I am bombarded with “needs” often. Between school supplies, athletic equipment, outgrown clothing replacements, and other odds and ends of childhood, it has begun to feel as though I am constantly asked for something. While some of these requests are legitimate, I have found myself newly aware that a lot of them are not.

Our culture dilutes and distorts our understanding of needs and wants. For children, this is especially so. Every whim and desire feels like a need we deserve. Without proper teaching, our kids will not understand that there is a difference between replacing outgrown jeans and replacing outgrown jeans with expensive jeans. Without proper teaching, our children may believe that an iPhone is essential when a land-line can meet the same need to communicate.

The results of entitlement

If we are not intentional about how we instruct our children and how we respond to their demands, we may quickly find ourselves living with a family stuck in the entitlement trap:

  • Entitled kids do not understand the connection between working for something and receiving it.
  • Entitled kids do not understand the value of the money they request for entertainment.
  • Entitled kids do not understand that their parents work hard to provide for their needs.
  • Entitled kids do not understand the difference between what is nice to have and what is truly necessary.

Pivot to empathy

As parents, it is our job to help our children grow up to become grateful, hard-working, and faithful. And these qualities fall at the opposite end of the entitlement spectrum. We must also help them to understand that there is a broader picture to see. We are called to look beyond ourselves to care for the needs of our neighbors.

"Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" Philippians 2:4.

As Christians, we must not only consider our own self-interest but we must look to the needs of others. Many, many others have true needs, and we need the eyes to see them. We can help our children choose to use their talents and resources in a way that benefits one another instead of gathering more material goods for ourselves. By offering opportunities for connection with others who will benefit from our talents and resources, we are helping our children to see that they have a part to play in the way God will grow His Kingdom here on earth.

Practices to reorient behavior

Consider these ideas to combat entitlement:

  1. Insist on basic manners like "please" and "thank you," not just to make them polite, but to cultivate a heart of gratitude
  2. Find ways for your children to work towards earning the extras. Maybe that's points or gold stars, or maybe that's a part-time job.
  3. Model compassionate responses for your children. Whether you choose to do this by donating to someone in need, volunteering in a soup kitchen, or practicing random acts of kindness, allow your kids to see and participate in these actions.
  4. Reflect with your children about ways that they might help someone else. Do they know of someone who is struggling financially or is in need? How can they help? Empower them to use their own money to make a difference in the life of another.
  5. Be intentional about teaching the difference between a want and a need. We may want a new pair of shoes but not need them. We need food, shelter, love.
  6. Encourage your family to donate their outgrown, unused clothes, toys, or household items before purchasing anything new. Even from our excess, we can bless others greatly.

Our children may request many things. But we have a part to play in teaching them what it means to earn, to offer, to give…and not just to request or demand. We can help them escape the entitlement trap by offering opportunities to understand a compassionate response to true need and helping them to see what part they can play in the life of another. We can foster this spiritual growth in our children as they begin to find the lifelong role they will play in God's Kingdom on earth.

About the author — Nadia Swearingen-Friesen

Nadia Swearingen-Friesen is a writer and national speaker with a passion for empowering parents to approach their families with great intentionality and grace.  Nadia and her husband, Mark, are the parents of four children and live in the Chicago area. Nadia also blogs at http://nadiaswearingen-friesen.com/

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