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Managing Parental Expectations
December 16, 2018


How often do you find yourself giving vague instructions to your kids —  “Stop that”, “Clean this up”, “Be nice to your sister”, “I told you to stop it. ” usually with little effect?

It seems children often seek to do exactly the opposite of what their parents tell them, whether because of distractions or just old-fashioned disobedience. But children misbehave for other reasons, too. Their parents may not have expressed their expectations clearly enough — or they’ve fallen into a pattern of inconsistent enforcement of those expectations.

Children thrive if parents can have clear expectations for behavior and enforce those standards consistently.

Here is some advice:

Establish principles

Children can clearly understand the core principles or rules that govern our everyday decisions. These rules may be adjusted as our kids mature or as family circumstances change — but we all hope our children will always be able to point to the foundation upon which our rules, expectations, and consequences are built.

Base expectations in reality

As parents, we need to keep our expectations attached to reality. We need to anticipate mistakes and even foresee some misbehavior. It’s too easy to lose perspective of what is normal behavior in each age and stage of development.

We do need to expect responsibility. We do need to expect obedience. We do need to expect social skills after we’ve trained our kids to those standards. But we shouldn’t be surprised when they fail at those things. Mistakes are launching grounds for further learning. Our responses to their mistakes and poor choices must encourage that natural maturing process.

Clear and consistent correction

Our job as parents is to minimize a child’s negative tendency, such as selfishness. We should accentuate the positive and help our kids discover and follow. We must outlast, out think and outmaneuver our children and their inborn bent to foolishness. We need to discipline them consistently. The following principles will help you ensure that your discipline is consistent and fair:

  • Train first. We should never punish for something a child didn’t know was wrong. Irresponsibility should not be punished unless it is deliberate and defiant. Children are naturally clumsy and immature.
  • The punishment should fit the offense. A small infraction should be met with a small form of correction. A big wrongdoing should be met with more stringent correction. We also recommend that the parent present at the time of the infraction should handle the correction.
  • Don’t lose control. No punishment should ever be given in anger.




Adjust Your Expectations

Parents often have unrealistic expectations is because a young child's behavior isn't consistent or predictable from day to day (or even moment to moment). A child’s attention span and inclination to play nicely with others depends on mood, level of fatigue, and a host of other factors. Often parents aren't informed about what age-appropriate behaviors are. Practicing good behavior together, rather than explaining, is the best way to help a child build new habits.

Resisting Temptations

  • The Expectation: Your 3-year-old will put his toys away without being constantly reminded over and over.
  • The Reality: The child puts a few blocks in the bin, then starts playing again.
  • The Fix: It's difficult for a young child to resist playing with toys. So, just to join in. Be sure to enthusiastically compliment your child when even one toy is put in its proper place. By showing how things are done and praising positive results – however limited it – you will help your child develop good habits,"

  • The Expectation: Your 2-year-old will keep busy for two minutes while you go to the bathroom.
  • The Reality: You no sooner slip away than your child is following right behind, demanding to join you.
  • The Fix: The more you resist letting your child come with you, the clingier the child is likely to become. Instead, play cars or puzzles for a few minutes and then say that you need to go to the bathroom and will be back very soon. When you're finished, return as promised. Give a pat and a thank you for playing nicely while you were gone.

Public Displays of Bad Behavior

  • The Expectation: Your 3-year-old will quietly sit and color at a restaurant until your food arrives.
  • The Reality: The child flings sugar packets, drops utensils, and occasionally shrieks like a supernatural being.
  • The Fix: Make the restaurant as homelike as you realistically can. Dine at about the same time you usually do and perhaps even bring your child's own cup, plate, and utensils. In any case, choose only kid-friendly restaurants until your child is at least 4.
  • The Expectation: Your 4-year-old will share nicely with his friends.
  • The Reality: You are not a parent – you are a WWF referee.
  • The Fix: Preschoolers are still learning the idea of empathy, so it is difficult for them to grasp the idea of sharing. When things do go well, speak up, spelling out exactly what you admire. At the same time, don't intervene at every hint of a skirmish. While you want to prevent things from escalating too far, resist the first impulse to jump in. "Four-year-old children can often work things out themselves. Not happening? Try using your oven timer. Say, "She gets the puppet for two minutes, then it's your turn." Kids this age understand and expect fairness.

Discover how to realistically deal with these common expectations and learn ways to help your child work toward mastering them – eventually. Also, learn how to know when it's YOU who needs the attitude adjustment.

Established guidelines at T’s Learning Center, as a top preschool choice in Ponte Vedra, we help instill security and predictability your preschoolers and toddlers need when away from home. Our staff is here to support our toddler and preschool children in an environment that encourages spontaneity while inspiring good behavior and fellowship.