The Power of Expectations


I have had the privilege over the past couple of weeks to get together on the phone with a wonderful group of moms during my ScreamFree Parenting for Busy Moms teleseminar.  It has been the perfect balance of reviewing key principles as well as open discussion and sharing for all of us.   During our call last night we touched on expectations and raising self-directed children and I thought I would write more about the importance and power you have as a parent when you set up clear and concise expectations.

Expectations fall into two main categories: behaviors and accomplishments.  I am going to focus on behavior expectations.

  • Set realistic expectations based on the age of your child.

As a parent, you know your child best.  With that information I think you know what your child can and cannot do when it comes to behavior.  There are plenty of sources available that can help you identify what you can expect of your two year old or five year old, but still – you know your child best.  Be reasonable with what you are expecting from your child.   Do you find yourself getting upset when you are out all afternoon trying to do errands and your two year old starts acting up?  For a majority of children, that is an unrealistic expectation.  They cannot be expected to “perform” for that long of a period.

  • Do you clearly lay out your expectations?

I find this one gets overlooked – even with parents who think they are giving an expectation.  When you are leaving the house, do you spell out for your child what kind of behavior you are looking for?  Or do you say something like, “Be a good girl for momma while we are at the store.”  Is that a clear expectation?  Does a two year old know what that means, or even a six year old?  For my children I always gave very specific expectations so they knew exactly what I was wanting from them.  For example, going out to dinner in a restaurant, we would stop right before we entered the restaurant and I would list the expectations I had, sitting on bottoms, using manners like “please” and “thank you”, proper use of their utensils, and using inside voices.  Then I would also follow it up with what would happen if they chose NOT to follow the expectation.  This helped me the most, as I knew ahead of time what I would be doing if they did not cooperate and I wasn’t caught off guard or sitting there giving empty threats and not following through.

This same type of clear description of expected behavior can be done with any situation, from cleaning their room, riding in the car or even homework as your child gets older.  When you are at work or given a project doesn’t your boss give you some direction?  It is the same when you are a parent, they need your help to figure out what actions they need to display.

  • Praise generously when expectations are met!

When your child displays the appropriate behavior and meets or EXCEEDS your expectation this is where you can show your appreciation and pleasure.  By giving specific praise rather than general phrases, you will be enforcing the teaching and learning process your child goes through.  Rather than saying, “thank you for being such a good girl,”  say “you did a great job staying seated on your bottom and using an inside voice.  It was so nice to have you along.”  Can you see the difference in what your child hears from you?  You will make a much bigger impact with those specific statements rather than general ones.

As we enter the holiday season and kids are often put into new and unique situations, take the time to be clear and concise with your expectations and I can guarantee you will see a difference in their behavior and it will reduce your reactive behavior!

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