Well, What Do You Expect?

Which of these situations would aggravate you as a parent?


  • Your 9-month-old cries when you leave the room.
  • Your 4-year-old continually asks, “Why?”
  • Your 6-year-old spills her drink at dinner nearly every night.
  • Your 12-year-old frequently challenges your knowledge.
  • Your 15-year-old son shows no affection toward you.
  • Your 17-year-old daughter is moody, self-centered, and sometimes hostile.


Don’t worry…there’s no right or wrong answer. No one is judging you. Truth be told, each of these situations aggravate parents all the time!


Now, what if I told you that every one of these behaviors is developmentally appropriate? That they are NORMAL? Would your irritation decrease just a little?


Anytime we expect more than we should, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Anytime we establish unrealistically high expectations for our kids, our kids are sure to fail. So, how do we know if our expectations are realistic? Should we have expectations at all?


Dr. Dalia. Are my expectations too high?

Dr. Dalia.
Are my expectations too high?


There’s nothing wrong with having expectations, as long as they’re not too high or too low for your child.


When we expect too little, our kids lack ambition and motivation to reach their potential. Many parents have low expectations for their children when it comes to taking responsibility around the house, for example. They take responsibility for their kids, rather than teaching their kids how take responsibility for themselves.


When we expect too much, our kids get frustrated, feel bad about themselves, and may give up trying altogether. If you find yourself getting frustrated and/or disappointed with your child about the same issue over and over, you may be setting the bar unrealistically high. For instance, you might need to wait until your child is a bit older, or you may need to teach him a new skill to bring about the behavior you desire.


When trying to set REALISTIC expectations, there are two main things you need to know:


1) What’s considered “normal?”

You need to learn about your child’s developmental stage and the “tasks” associated with each stage. You do this by reading books or articles on child development, taking parenting classes, or talking to your child’s teachers or pediatrician.


Parents tend to focus on physical and intellectual milestones (i.e. walking, talking, reading, writing, etc.), but they don’t always pay attention to their child’s social, emotional, and moral milestones  (i.e. distinguishing between reality and fantasy, learning how to express feelings, knowing the difference between right and wrong, etc). For some reason, we believe, hope, and expect our kids to mature in these areas much faster than nature intends.


For example, did you know that it’s common for children 5-6 years old to bite their nails, blink their eyes, clear their throats, sniffle, or suck their thumb when they feel tired, nervous, or upset? I didn’t!


I remember when my friend’s daughter was about that age. She used to constantly sniffle. This was not related at all to having a cold, but was a nervous habit. The sound of the sniffing used to infuriate my friend. I wonder: If she had known that an increase in nervous habits was temporary and normal at age 6, would she have handled the situation differently?


Instead of using punishment or shame to deal with the behavior (which unfortunately she did), perhaps my friend would have tried to address the underlying cause of stress triggering the habit.


As children get older, their need to establish independence and an identity apart from their families grows stronger. Parents who do not understand and expect this often take it personally that their teenagers do not want to spend as much time with them or are not as affectionate as they used to be. They may shame their child or cling tighter to the relationship, which brings about an even greater desire for autonomy from the child’s perspective.


On the other hand, when parents respect this need for independence (while maintaining healthy boundaries and limits), the teen is able to create his own identity based on the integration of his values and an awareness of himself in relation to others.


2) Who is your child?

Although the research and data on developmental stages is important to know, it only tells us what is considered “average.” Since every child is unique, every child will develop at his or her own pace.


My daughter Marissa began speaking at a very early age, whereas Dalia’s pediatrician recommended speech therapy at 18 months because she still wasn’t talking. However, Dalia’s fine motor skills were developed a lot sooner than Marissa’s.


It’s also important to note that development doesn’t always happen uniformly across the board. For example, your daughter may play tennis like a pro and do extremely well in school, but still cling to you whenever you try to leave the house.


If you suspect that the lag in an area of development is severe, by all means, trust your gut and seek help sooner rather than later. But be careful not to let your anxiety get the best of you. Avoid getting emotionally reactive and criticizing or humiliating your child. He needs you to remain CALM and CONNECTED, so that you can effectively parent and support him.


The point is to accept your child as he is RIGHT NOW. Know your child and set your expectations based on who he is, not who you want him to be.  Keep your focus on what your child IS doing, rather than on what you wish he were doing. Avoid comparing him to his peers and siblings and let go of trying to fit him into a particular mold.


Then, you can expect to be pleasantly surprised by who your child becomes, rather than disappointed by who he doesn’t.


What are YOUR thoughts on the matter? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below and share your own experience. What were the expectations of YOU as a child and what impact did your parents’ expectations have on you?


If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and “like” it on Facebook. And If you want help adjusting your expectations to set up your child for success (and stop feeling disappointed and frustrated), check out my private coaching services.

Showing 5 comments
  • Laura

    Thank you for writing on this topic. I am easily frustrated when my two young boys (Kindergarten and first grade) behave in ways that drive me nuts. After reading this, I realize that for the most part they are ‘acting their age’ and ‘just being boys’. Silly, goofy, rough at times, off the wall, wild, and exhausting.. all of these behaviors are normal and not something I should be over-analyzing and stressing over fixing. Parenting is tough but realizing this is all a normal part of growing up will help give me the patience I need to survive it! Thanks, Pam!

    • Pam Howard

      You’re welcome, Laura! Thanks for your comments!

  • Beth

    Thanks, You are right that it’s helpful to my sanity to know I’m not alone. In fact, I think sometimes the only way to stay sane is for me to remember your sage advice here; that behavior that’s inappropriate may in fact, be developmentally appropriate. Keeping this in mind, it will let me discipline without blowing up. Even though I’ve been at this parenting thing a while now, with three teens, it’s sometimes harder to remember with them than with little kids. If a 4 year old says “you’re ugly” to someone, you know they’re speaking their truth and don’t have another way to express what might be a much more complicated message like: “You won’t let me have that ice cream cone and I really want it.” With teens, they are almost adults. Two of mine now drive, one is getting ready to go to college and the other getting ready to apply. I tend to think that since they want to be treated as adults, that they should behave as adults. I’ll keep your blog in mind, and know that no matter their maturity, physical and intellectual, they are not quite adults, and sometimes their inappropriate behavior may be completely normal. I still may go crazy, though!

  • Beth

    Even knowing that it is developmentally appropriate for my 14-year-old to challenge my knowledge, (not frequently, but constantly) or my 16-year-old to ignore me, or my 18-year-old to occasionally be moody and hostile, I still see it as my job to guide them to more appropriate behavior. I agree that shaming a child is never appropriate. However, even though it may be who my 14-year-old is right now, and what he needs as he develops his own identity separate from mine, I still think it’s ok for me to occasionally express my heartfelt exasperation at having everything I say be contradicted. If I can ask him why he believes soda is good for him, when I say it is not, and I can explain why I believe what I do about soda, and when I am firm in my commitment in not permitting it, he learns that I appreciate his thoughts, but that he is not, in fact, always right. When I’m wrong, I make a point of admitting it, so he learns that mistakes are ok, and we learn from them. When my 18-year-old is moody and hostile (just wait until Marissa is waiting for college acceptances), I understand her emotions, but it’s also important for me to tell her that her hostility will result in negative, not positive consequences. It may be developmentally appropriate, but it’s still not desired behavior.

    • Pam Howard

      Hi Beth! You are absolutely right that it is your job to guide them to more appropriate behavior and set limits to help them through each developmental stage. I love your honesty and the way you express yourself to your kids and even apologize to them (many parents never do that!) For sure, this parenting stuff is HARD and requires a great deal of patience. Although you want to address inappropriate behavior, sometimes it is helpful for your own sanity to remember that you are not alone and that, as annoying as their behaivor may be, it is normal and part of a phase of growing and maturing. Thank you so much for your comments! Keep calm and parent on:)

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