Setting Expectations

One of the biggest issues I come across as a clinician involves communication between adults and children. This often comes up because caregivers have expectations of their children, but they aren’t always expressed until the last minute. Meanwhile, children and teenagers develop their own expectations for a certain situation or reaction. When they come together, arguments ensue and overall stress and strain on the family occurs.

“Say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.” – Andrew Watcher

With school approaching, stress is high for everyone which diminishes our rational thinking. However, for many, there are new and more expectations for kids when they are home doing school work that may not have occurred before. Children have expectations of their parents about being able to help them. The behaviors and activities that were once allowable at home are shifting to include typical school behavioral expectations.

Regardless of the situation, there are a few simple things to keep in mind when trying to improve communication and setting expectations.

3 Tips to Setting Expectations

  1. Make them about your child and not your own needs and want: Each child is unique and different. You may want your child to excel in math, but it is more difficult for them. Make your expectation something that is achievable and doesn’t diminish their sense of self. When it comes to behaviors, identify your own family values such as kindness and respect. Set your expectations so that they are aligned with those values.
  2. Be clear and consistent: Prepare your child in the moment and out of it. When you are going to the store and expect your child to leave without having a tantrum for wanting a candy bar, let them know what you expect them to say when you answer. Practice with them. Repeat this every time you go out and when you’re home. The more often you practice, the more likely it is that your child will react in the way that is most appropriate and expected. Reinforce with little celebrations and verbal acknowledgement of how well they behaved. This also reinforces that they are successful and can meet the expectations that have been set which is important for self motivation and self esteem.
  3. Forget the “all or nothing” attitude: There will be instances where the expectation was high and the child didn’t meet it. Reach for high expectations and standards, but when they aren’t met, acknowledge the difficulty and any small success that was obtained. Maybe they only asked a few times to get that candy bar, but eventually said okay. If you criticize your child or reinforce with a negative consequence, you run the risk of lower self esteem and perfectionist qualities from children. Reiterate that mistakes are okay, and that any small progress is worth recognizing and celebrating!

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