Setting expectations are vitally important when raising children. As a whole, children will almost always rise or fall to our, often UN-communicated, expectations. It is best to do some research on child development before setting certain expectations. I have also found that the more kids we have, the longer the younger ones get away with lower expectations, mainly because I’m just in the habit of doing things myself, instead of letting them do it.
Setting the Bar Too High
Just like almost everything in life, there needs to be a balance and setting expectations is no exception! There can be some detrimental consequences when we constantly set expectations way too high for our children. Doing so can lead to poor self-esteem, social dysfunction, a bad parent-child relationship, a negative attitude towards authority, disrespect, etc. When children are required to perform tasks that are too difficult for them, they constantly feel like a failure. Before long, they do things only out of obligation and not out of longing.
Setting the Bar Too Low
This too can have detrimental effects. If a child isn’t ever held to any expectations, they can develop many of the same concerns that are listed above. Being expected to do nothing oftentimes communicates a perception of incapability and unworthiness. The children often feel like their parents think they are worthless and not capable of accomplishing remedial tasks.
Finding the Fine Line
As I mentioned above, doing a bit of research on childhood development couldn’t hurt. However, there is a lot out there and it can be very overwhelming. I recommend thinking about areas that are particularly stressful for you or just areas that you feel like you need some assistance. Think about ways a child might be able to help lighten the load. It’s also vitally important that a child learn how to take care of themselves, so if you have no expectations, then start with that (dressing themselves, feeding themselves, picking up after themselves, etc).
Set up some expectations and give them a trial run for a week, two weeks and/or a month. After a certain amount of time has passed, evaluate the situation and see if anything needs to be tweaked, if so, try a few changes, if not, add on another! 😉
Don’t beat yourself up if you realize that maybe you really were asking too much. Just change it up and see if it helps. For example, when I started the chore chart for the older boys, my daughter wanted to do it too (you know, she can’t be left out). However, she got very frustrated because she didn’t understand the days of the week, how certain chores were assigned to certain days, that when you were done completing a chore, you turn the chore card over and put it in back. Honestly, I got a little frustrated too, because I didn’t understand why she wasn’t understanding the card turning thing. So, I took a step back and thought about it for a little while. Then it dawned on me that she really doesn’t have any calendar skills yet, so that would make things hard to understand. I also did a little research online and almost every place I went to that had a chore chart said for ages 4+. Now I understand. So my husband and I would go to the chart, tell her what she needed to do, when she was done, we would turn the card over and put it in back and tell her what was next. It only took a couple of times doing this and she started understanding and is now able to do it on her own and she is almost 4.
How to Set Expectations
Usually the biggest hurdle in having expectations for children is that often they are never actually communicated to the child! How unfair is that?! How would you feel if you got fired for not completing a project at work, but were never told that it was your responsibility? Same goes for children. They need to be told BEFOREHAND what is expected of them. It’s not fun to play a game if you have to find out all the rules as you go along. So communicate your expectations to your child before you expect them to adhere to them.
If your child starts to do something and you haven’t set expectations for it yet, talk about it right then and there. Say something like, “I know we haven’t talked about this before, so it’s okay right now, but next time you will need to ….”
Consistency is of utmost importance when enforcing and upholding expectations.
Communication is also an integral part, especially if there are other children in the family. It isn’t fair to expect the same thing out of a 2 year old as you do a 7 year old. Remember, equal isn’t always fair.
Reviewing the expectations will also help.
Week 1: Read the post and think about the expectations you have for your child(ren).
Week 2: Communicate your expectations to your child. It’s usually good to do a reminder before an event happens. For example, if I am shopping with my kids, I review my expectations (stay close to me, keep hands to yourself, don’t ask for anything if you didn’t bring your own money, etc) and the consequences if expectations aren’t met before getting out of the van.
Week 3: Especially if your children are older, sit down and have a conversation with them about expectations that THEY think they should or should not have and why. Make sure to listen to your child before explaining your side or sharing your input. If at all possible, come to a peaceful agreement about implementing some changes, if your children were reasonable in their wishes. If your child wasn’t reasonable, calmly try explaining your reasoning behind such expectations.
Week 4: Continue to reinforce and review expectations (especially right before you expect them to comply).
Week 5: Continue to reinforce and review expectations (especially right before you expect them to comply).
What expectations do you have for your child(ren)?