Setting expectations for children is a healthy part of parenting. It's how we guide them and help them grow. But sometimes those expectations can become unreasonable, creating stress for the child and frustration for you.
A parent who consistently feels let down can create an environment of disappointment. And children who feel they are failing to please you can act out or become despondent or isolated. So where do you draw the line? Dr. Alisha Carpenter, manager of child and adolescent services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, shares five common ways that parents set the bar too high — and offers tips to strike a balance.
Expectation 1: Children should be upbeat and positive.
The problem: As adults, we allow ourselves to embrace a bad day, experience a bad mood or make bad choices. So why should children be any different? Your child may have gotten into a fight with a friend, been reprimanded by a teacher or broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. And he or she deserves to feel the same frustrations or emotions as adults do.
The solution: Unless this is a consistent problem, try cutting your child some slack. After your child has calmed down, check in with him about his day. Try to avoid confrontation in the heat of the moment. And always reassure him that you love him and are available to support him in whatever ways he may need.
Expectation 2: Children should learn and develop the same as their peers.
The problem: There are plenty of graphs, charts and statistics that will tell you what your child should be doing and when. But most — if not all — are an oversimplified understanding of the natural variability among children. Your child may be the first to walk, but the last to talk. Every child develops differently.
The solution: Considering general developmental norms is important, but there is a window. Remember that you are the expert of your child. Pay attention to her individual strengths and weaknesses, and don't set your expectations off of a chart. It's also important not to compare children to their peers, a sibling or yourself.
Expectation 3: Children should conform to social norms.
The problem: Certain behaviors may be acceptable in certain situations and not in others. Perhaps you let your child wear his pajamas at home, but not while guests are over. Children may not understand these social norms or why you are reacting differently to their behavior based on the context.
The solution: Talk with your children about these differences. It will help them recognize social norms, and assist them as they get older in determining ways they may want to stand out. Being able to recognize that they are making a "different" choice will help them deal with any rejection they might experience. It is not our role as humans to "fit in," but it is helpful to recognize and decide where we might choose not to.
Expectation 4: Children should not fail.
The problem: While it's our job to help our children develop into responsible and self-reliant adults, we don't always go about this in the right way. Today's world can be challenging and competitive, and parents have a tendency to shield their children from stress and failures. Yet these challenges and failures shouldn't be underestimated. While they can sting, they can also provide an opportunity to learn and grow.
The solution: Step back, collaborate and don't take over. Encourage effort and problem-solving, rather than providing the right answer. And know that the same principle applies whether your 4-year-old is attempting to pour her own milk or your 16-year-old needs solutions to his math homework.
Expectation 5: Children should do what we tell them to do.
The problem: We may not like it, but kids learn more from what we show them, rather than what we tell them. You can tell a child not to eat with her mouth open or spend too much time on his phone. But until we set an example ourselves, their behavior won't change.
The solution: The best way to teach your child right from wrong is by demonstrating it through your actions. While this may seem like a daunting task, remember that you are a role model. And even as a role model, you make mistakes. Some of the most valuable lessons your child can learn from you are admitting to mistakes, learning from those mistakes and continually striving to do and be better.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Alisha Carpenter for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.