How to Establish Realistic Expectations for Kids

Realistic expectations of your child
Andy Ryan / Taxi / Getty Images

Establishing realistic expectations for children can be a bit complicated at times. Set the bar too high and you’re child could suffer the consequences of being under too much pressure. But, if you don’t set high enough expectations, you won’t encourage your child to reach her greatest potential.

Establish Realistic Expectations

The research is pretty clear – kids usually perform up to their parents’ expectations.

If you expect your child to be an honor roll student, there’s a good chance she’ll be on the honor roll. If however, you expect your child to just scrape by in school, her grades aren’t likely to exceed your expectations.

When a child knows you believe in her, she’s more likely to believe in herself. Saying, “I think you can get good grades,” is likely to motivate her to study hard and put in more effort to meet your expectations. It’s good to have high enough expectations that your child feels challenged.

Those expectations extend beyond academics as well. If you expect your child to be a good athlete, she’ll likely practice longer and work harder to become better. The same goes for playing a musical instrument, performing in a play, or learning a new skill.

Similarly, kids will behave according to your expectation. If you expect your child to treat others with kindness and respect, she’ll likely conduct herself appropriately.

If however, you expect her to be rude and argumentative, she’s likely to behave accordingly.

While high expectations are good, putting too much pressure on a child can be harmful. If your child struggles academically and you insist she should get straight A's, you won’t be doing her any favors. Similarly, if you’ve got a clumsy child on your hands and you insist she should be on the all-star team, she may develop self-esteem issues.

Here are seven ways to create realistic expectations for your child:

1. Examine the reason for your expectation. It’s important to ask – and answer honestly – whether your expectation are about your child’s needs or your needs. For example, do you want her to be the best singer in the talent show because it would make you feel good about all those lessons you paid for over the years? Or is it because you think it’s something she truly wants to do?

2. Consider your child’s temperament. There needs to be a balance between accepting your child for who she is and wanting her to grow better. You may have a child who just isn’t academically gifted or perhaps she won’t ever be a start athlete. Trying to force her to become something she’s not will only create a lot of additional problems.

3. Praise your child’s efforts instead of the outcome. Use praise to build character, rather than inflate your child’s ego. Reserve most of your compliments for your child’s efforts. Instead of saying, “Great job today! You scored the most points of anyone on the whole team,” try saying, “You really hustled today and it showed!”

4. Avoid comparing your child to other children. Encourage your child to compete against herself, rather than other people all the time.

Rather than saying, “You got a better grade on your math test than Susie!” say, “You really improved your score compared to your last math test.”

5. Don’t exaggerate. Saying things like, “You’re the smartest kid in your whole school,” or “You’re the best soccer player on the field,” will only backfire. Keep your praise realistic.

6. Ask your child to judge her performance. Before you offer feedback, ask your child how she feels about her performance. Whether you’re looking at her report card or you’re talking about her dance recital, learning how she feels about it can give you insight into her expectations for herself.

7. Monitor your child’s self-esteem. Kids feel good about themselves when parents have appropriate expectations. If you put too much pressure – or not enough pressure – on your child, she’s likely to feel bad about herself. If she seems confident and she’s willing to keep learning and trying new things, take it as a sign your expectations are realistic.

Continue Reading