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?
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.