One type of behavior you often see when working with children at risk is called, “Entitlement.”
Entitlement behavior looks like this:
“Give me this.”
“Give me that.”
“I want this.”
“Get that for me.”
In essence it’s “I want what I want and I want it NOW.”
And it is never satisfied.
If you give this child what he asks for he will immediately want more or something else. He is angry at you if you don’t give in to his demands.
This can easily be mistaken as a child who is “spoiled,” or used to getting his way. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s easy to think this child just needs some strict discipline and to be taught manners. But unfortunately that would just be like putting a bandaid on a festering wound.
There’s a lot more going on beneath the surface. In fact, once you understand what is driving the feelings of entitlement in a child, seeing that behavior will just break your heart.
Children with extreme entitlement issues have a deep pain from not having their needs met. Inside they feel enraged and they become determined to meet their own needs in whatever way they can.
“When early dependency needs were not provided, the child feels a sense of loss and shame that manifests itself in being angry. This child may go through life angrily trying to get others to make up for what his parents did not provide.”
And so they try to fill this great void with things. “If I just get that candy, then I’ll feel better.” And they might for a moment, but whatever it is never truly satisfies so they want the next thing and the next.
Filling a child’s deep need for love and acceptance with “stuff” is like trying to fill a bottomless pit. And seeing this desperation in kids just makes my heart ache.
“The entitlement defense helps keep the child from his internal global belief of “I am bad” that developed when he felt parental rejection and feared abandonment early in life.
His secret belief is that I must be really bad or my parents would have loved me. He avoids remembering early painful experiences of hurt and shame.
The narcissistic wound is described as being so great that the individual cannot even consider the balm to provide the healing. This form of denial and rigid thinking is one of the hardest defenses to break into. The child continually seeks self gratification to pursue relief from shame.
These unquenchable demands are the result of arrested growth. The depth of these defenses is the depth of the trauma. When the child is stressed or threatened, he engages in more self-serving behaviors.”
We spend most of our days with children like this.
Today I felt like I was absorbing their level of stress and anxiety as they kept trying to fill that ache in their hearts with “this” and “that” – with whatever it is that they think will make them happy in that moment.
And in the midst of all that stress, they aren’t able to really relax and just enjoy the day. They are in a constant state of stress and panic – afraid they’ll get left behind, someone will get something better than they have, they’ll miss out on something, someone will take something from them, or worse.
Can you imagine living like that?
Filled with fear, unable to trust, locked up emotionally inside yourself, desperately trying to grab for whatever you can get, to buy yourself a little relief from your painful feelings.
With kids like this it’s one thing to try to “fix” the problem behaviors. It’s quite another to deal with matters of the heart, and truly that’s where our focus needs to be.
“It’s only when children know they are loved and accepted that they can fully engage with the world around them, without reservation and without fear.” – Teacher Tom
Once they know this – how to give and receive love – the rest will follow.
Today was so painful because I kept seeing glimpses of trust, glimmers of hope in their eyes. An extra long embrace with a tough nine year old. She let me just hold her and rock her.
But when the moment’s gone they lock back up again, safe inside the fortress of their hardened heart.
Today we had a visiting team who hosted a bunch of special events – surf camp in the morning, skate competition in the afternoon, then dinner and a special movie. Before the movie, after a long, fun, day I had to take Jude (4) and Koa (2) home. They were tired and done for the day. Jude especially was just needing his mom. He just needed to be with me.
I told two of the kids who were with me in the car that I would drop them off at the movie night, but then I was going to take Jude and Koa home.
They looked at me with a spark of hope.
“We’ll just go with you,” they said, eyes lighting up.
It was the first time I saw a real vulnerability on their faces.
I looked at them and my heart ached.
“No,” I said, “I need to go home. Do you want me to take you to the movie night or back to your house?”
Their eyes hardened and faces went cold. They turned to each other and discussed what to do and decided to go to the movie. As I dropped them off they got out of the car and glared at me with angry eyes.
Hiding the hurt they felt underneath.
It’s easier to feel angry at someone then to face your own pain and vulnerability.
I’m sorry to end this post on a sad note. But it’s not the end of the story – not by a long shot.
We work with these kids every day and, though psychology says that this is one of the hardest defenses to break into, we have hope for them. We have a God whose love can penetrate the deepest darkness.
Studies have also shown that if a child has a consistent mentor for two years or longer, it can change their internal “working model” (a fancy term for what they believe about themselves and the world). They are not beyond hope.
Especially if you join us in prayer.
Lift these precious children before our Father daily. Ask that His Love will penetrate their wounded hearts that are so in need of love and acceptance.
Pray for us as well – for wisdom in all that we do.
Pray that we will be able to build trust and find out what is really going on at home – if there is abuse let it be exposed and the children brought to a safe place where they can heal and restore.