Parenting Tuesday: Expectations: Friend or Foe?

I was recently looking through Michele Borba’s book, “Parents Do Make A Difference: How To Raise Kids with Solid Character, Strong Minds, and Caring Hearts,” and this sentence jumped out at me:

The kind of messages we send our children is critical.  Expecting little from our kids limits their success, because they lose the incentive to try new possibilities.  Unrealistic expectations can also damage our kids:  “Why didn’t you get all A’s?”  “How did you not make the team?”  “You got a 98 percent – which two did you miss?”  Pushing our kids because we want the best for them may be misinterpreted by them as “You’re not good enough.”  Successful expectations gently stretch our children’s potential to become their best without pushing them to be more than they can be.  And these expectations never destroy children’s feelings of adequacy.”

The author goes on to discuss using the parameters of “developmentally appropriate, realistic, child-oriented, and success-oriented” as barometers for whether an expectation is healthy or not.

I talk a lot about development on this blog, and have included realistic expectations as part of the developmental posts for each age.  You can access many back posts to look at that.  However, here is a quick rule of thumb:  you can have expectations for things for children under the age of 6, but you must know development and whether what you are asking is way too much (and for most parents who have their first child, they are asking way too much in terms of table manners, chores, responsibility and communication).  Temper your drive for expectations for the small child with warmth, love, forgiveness and humor, and the knowledge you WILL be repeating the same things over and over and your child WILL need your physical presence to follow through.  Do not ask your five year old to be and do what a twelve year is and does!  Sometimes parents ask me about expectations in terms of a five year old who doesn’t want to finish an outside activity or class – my answer for those under six is to not worry about them finishing an outside activity or class for this age.  Home is the place to be, and classes and outside activities can wait.  A child this age doesn’t have a good understanding of time typically nor the length of weeks most of these outside classes run.

Children ages 6 through 8 or so can start to  gently work with expectations of manners, responsibility of chores, knowing right from wrong and the consequences of that in a way that involves you modeling, you helping, and then you withdrawing for the child to try on their own as they approach nine years old.  I think it is important to still protect the children who are just in these early grades, but also to slowly build up a foundation of more responsibility in the loving care of the home and in the social realm.  Six to eight year olds still need a good deal of supervision in play, and in general (don’t be upset if I say this!), boys need more supervision than girls to keep things from getting destructive. However, both genders can cross lines of boundaries and fairly quickly someone can get hurt.  You need to be present, but not hovering as a giant buffer.  Have some work of your own to do, keep the basement door open if the children are down there and you are in the kitchen..

Nine to twelve year olds can  start to gain independence in some areas, but may still need a surprising amount of hand holding in terms of really tackling something and finishing it.  Help them follow things through, so you can lay a great foundation for the teenaged years.   Socially the children need space and time to learn social boundaries without you hovering about, but still present with a snack or present to come to when things need resolution.  Twelve year olds and up still need help in determining limits, in working with increased responsibility and the increased freedom that goes with that.

So, development and reality go hand in hand.  Expect something, give time and space, but also expect to support, encourage and hold your child in warmth and love.

Here is my caveat:  don’t expect nothing.  A nine year old is not four.  A nine or ten  year old should have chores,  and should have things that are different than the four year old or two year old in the family in terms of responsibility and freedom.  Having no expectations at all narrows a child’s world to that of a toddler.  Children in the grades are not toddlers, and having no expectations does nothing to prepare that child for the teenaged years and for life as a young adult. It can be harder in families that are bigger or with large age gaps, where we often want to group children together for our own ease…and sometimes this is appropriate, and sometimes our children need more.  We have to really observe, pray about it, meditate on it, and see what needs are really there or just what needs balancing to set up a good foundation for the next stage of development.

Author Borba discusses child-oriented expectations very briefly.  To me, child-oriented means that we always check our motive. Is this for the child, for the balance and health of the child and to lay good foundations for the next stage of development for the child or is this about us re-living our childhood? Or is it about us foisting our own injured past on our child and therefore limiting them by our own fears, our own burdens?

Lastly, success  oriented expectation means it is the kind of expectation that encourages a child to be their best to function not only within the healthy family but within the world at large.  We have to always keep in mind the ultimate goal of human freedom is not to just be able to do as one pleases, but to make choices that serve humanity, that serve others, that serve the family.  In other words, it is not all just about world revolving around the child as the child grows, but how can the child bring their unique gifts, the unique plan for their life into the world and be wonderful?

Food for thought today,


4 thoughts on “Parenting Tuesday: Expectations: Friend or Foe?

  1. great article Carrie. I have had concerns about wide pendulum swing trends I’ve seen in regards to raising children, totally “free” where the child chooses everything to totally controlled where the child is seen but not heard, and I think they need freedom AND boundaries/chores which are developmentally appropriate. I love this, totally sums it up:

    “We have to always keep in mind the ultimate goal of human freedom is not to just be able to do as one pleases, but to make choices that serve humanity, that serve others, that serve the family. In other words, it is not all just about world revolving around the child as the child grows, but how can the child bring their unique gifts, the unique plan for their life into the world and be wonderful?”

  2. This is very timely for me. I don’t home school my 5.5 year old but this blog really helps me navigate parenthood and gives me a much better understanding of where my children are in their development. I have been struggling with whether or not to sign my son up for an after-school sport/activity. He is adamant that he does not want to do anything other than play at the park, in the creek, and have play dates. We live in a town that is fairly sports and exercise obsessed so people start their kids playing sports at very young ages. I’m struggling with whether or not I should honor my son’s wishes to keep things simple or try to get him to do little league or YMCA soccer. I can’t tell if it’s a confidence issue (he is very athletic and coordinated) or just him telling me in his own way that he’s just a kid and he’ll do after school activities when he’s ready, thank you very much. We did soccer and gymnastics last fall and it was a disaster on top of starting full day kindergarten. Thoughts are welcome!

  3. This is a really informative article. I learned a lot from reading it. I have two sons, 9 and 12 years old and I can really see that the traits they’ve developed over the years are totally different. They are opposite in a lot of ways. I just hope I can raise them both well and nurture their gifts. Thank you for this Carrie. 🙂

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