Do You Expect Too Much From Your Kids?
By Michael Grose
Expectations of children are tricky for parents.
Expect too much of children and they may become discouraged as
they know they can't deliver on your expectations.
Expect too little and they may well meet your expectations and
deliver very little.
The key is to keep your expectations just ahead of your
children's capabilities. Let's explore this notion of expecatrions.
Parents frequently ask me when they should begin to develop
independence in children. My response rarely varies – we develop
independence from the earliest possible age. Toddlers generally want
to help out at home and do things for themselves but sometimes in
the busyness of life we forget to give them the chances to do things
for themselves. So we place cups and plates on tables for them,
undress and dress toddlers and feed them for far too long. When
children move into school we pack their schoolbags, speak for them
in shops or when adults address them and routinely pour their drinks
and prepare their food - things that they are capable of doing for
themselves albeit at a child-like level.
As good parents we don't let our kids want for much and we rush
in to make life easy for kids and ourselves. But good parenting is
the bane of the earth. Give me responsible parenting any day where
parents place responsibility where it lay, particularly when it
comes to kids helping themselves. This doesn't mean that a four year
old cooks a three-course meal or strips and makes his bed each day.
Rather independence is developed in small steps working from just
ahead of where kids are at developmentally. So helping to put the
vegetables on the kitchen bench is a step toward cooking a meal and
arranging the teddy and doonah is a good first step toward
bed-making. Responsible parents build scaffolds that allow
independence to occur.
Expectations extend to children's learning and development. We
need to get these right or kids can be discouraged from trying and
just give up. First born children, in particular, frequently
experience extraordinarily high parental expectations regarding
their learning and development. First borns, as a cohort, are often
low risk-takers when it comes to breaking out and trying new things.
The road to innovation and adventure is littered with uncertainty,
which increases the likelihood of errors. So many a first born child
avoids going out on a limb because he or she is hamstrung by high
parental expectations. (Don't feel guilty, it just happens!)
Our expectations of children's learning need to be positive and
realistic. We need to convey through our language and behaviour that
we believe children can succeed in a whole range of areas from
mixing with others to learning how to read but the expectations need
to be based on reality rather than fantasy. This means we need to
know our children's capabilities and avoid comparing their learning
and development to that of other children. This is easier said than
done as it is tempting to assess your own success as a parent on how
your children are developing and behaving. Far better to work from
the reality of the situation so if your child struggles academically
compared with what you hoped for then so be it. Be patient, help him
to develop the skills and attitudes to succeed but keep your
expectations within his realms of possibility.
Expectations are easy to talk and read about but they are hard to
control. I have spoken with parents who swear black and blue that
they have never expected too much of their children other than what
they are capable of. Fair call. I have spoken with their children
who claim that their parents placed inordinate pressure on them to
be the scholars that they were never going to be, the sportsperson
that their dad never was or the performing star that their mother
delighted in. Go figure!
Okay, how do you measure as a parent? Do you expect too little or
too much of your children? It is a hard one. But getting
expectations right is about knowing yourself and knowing your
children. Some kids (often later borns) need to be driven so maybe
your expectations need to be made known and maybe pretty high. While
others, particularly first borns, drive themselves hard anyway and
succeed better when parents are a little more laid back about what
they expect of their children.
As with everything about parenting there are no answers, only
quandaries. But the notion of expectations is worth thinking about
as we interact with our children on a daily basis and try to keep
our expectations both positive (yes, I think you can do this!) and
realistic (maybe riding your bike to town is beyond you now but
let's try riding to the shops first).
Michael Grose is the author of Why First Borns Rule the World and
Last Borns Want to Change it. You can purchase this ground-breaking
book (and find out just want your first, second and youngest
children need from you) at