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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).



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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 http://www.parentingideas.com.au



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