Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
One topic that keeps coming up as I write “Growing Creative Kids” is that of expectations. As Adora Svitak said in her recent TED Talk:
“…what’s even worse than restriction is that adults often underestimate kids abilities. We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them.”
One of the biggest problems with a word like “expectations” is it falls into the same nebulous category as dreams. Only if expectations are developed and stated with conviction do they become less of an idea and more concrete – much in the same way a dream with applied strategies and planning become goals.
Expectations are a lot like “rules” in a child’s mind. Often they are just as poorly developed and explained. It is easy to tell your child you expect something of them, but do you tell them why? Or better yet, provide some direction and advice on how to meet your expectations?
Many conflicts arise because there is a disconnect between parents and children, when one has expectations of the other but does not provide the tools, resources, and knowledge for those expectations to be met. This goes both ways as our children have big expectations for us as parents.
Communication is key when setting expectations, and, much like learning how to effectively set goals, you can get into the habit of framing your expectations in a clear and concise manner. This way, everyone is clear on what is expected and how it can be succesfully accomplished. Here are the steps you can take to develop expectations your child can meet and exceed.
- Make sure your expectations are realistic – Our expectations for our children should be high. They will rise to meet them and it is our responsibility to raise the next generation to be more successful than the last. However, setting unrealistically high expectations is one of the fastest ways to demoralize a child and leave them feeling like a failure. As you go through this process of planning your expectations, it should become very clear if your expectations are unrealistic.
- Examine YOUR motivation – When you are choosing which expectations your child should live up to, make sure they are in the best interest of your child. Expecting your child to be top of their class at everything, so you can be a proud parent is a selfish motivation. Likewise, trying to live your dreams of an NHL career through your son, even though he would rather be fixing cars than scoring goals, will not be a positive influence on his well-being.
- Define Your Expectations – There are different expectations you should have. One is a Personal Expectation – how you expect your child to behave and conduct themselves on a personal level. Then there are family/society expectations – these are the expectations that run society and it is your job to help your child understand them and follow them, or possibly to challenge them if the expectations are disagreeable. It is a personal expectation that your child develop a well rounded education and to develop a worth ethic that will lead to their success, and it’s a society expectation that they attend school and meet a basic level of competency in different subjects. Doing the bare minimum does not meet the expectations, so you might put a plan in place that allows your child to succeed, potentially structured homework help or working on skills at home that they do not learn in school.
- State your expectations clearly – This is an important skill to master whether speaking to your children, co-workers, or even dealing with customer service. You have decided on an ideal outcome. State it clearly and with confidence. It may help you if you write it out. This forces you to make your expectations clear and concise and leaves no room for misinterpretation. Get into the habit of stating your expectations for your everyday actions and have your children do the same. With younger children simply ask them “What do you want out of this?” This gives them an end goal, the expectation, and it gives them practice for setting expectations for themselves.
Don’t be afraid to allow your child to share their expectations for you and others. Your child likely expects that, while talking to you, you give your full attention. Are you fulfilling it? Adults are just as bad for this as kids – they learn ignoring from us! Similarly, before you go on a cleaning spree, they expect (or assume) that you will make sure that all those seemingly random pieces are not a part of a grand project they have been laboring over. If you have a creative child, you will know what I mean!
Teenagers should have expectations to live up to, it gives them focus and a challenge. As your children grow they will also have more expectations from you. Most of these are pretty simple and revolve around just being heard. You can teach your teens how to develop their own expectations and help you define your expectations for them. Their input is important and allows you to come up with expectations you all understand and can live with.
- Provide Support – Having expectations without providing the support necessary for them will be frustrating for everyone. Support comes in the form of materials, resources, and knowledge. Sometimes children do not focus on the big picture and all they need is an example of the expectation. If you expect a clean bedroom, you will have to support them and show what you expect. You might also have to provide resources; in this case, storage solutions and how to use them. The exact resources can vary – visual children will want a different system from a child who prefers systematic organization.
As you can see, expectations as simple as as keeping a clean room may require several steps. Break them down into their most basic parts, just like goal setting. This might include taking out the garbage, putting laundry into a hamper, making your bed each morning and so on.
- Celebrate Successes – A little praise and acknowledgment go a long way to encouraging children to meet and exceed expectations. After all, what’s the point of of goals and expectations if there’s no reward? And they doesn’t have to be material rewards!
Expectations are a wonderful thing. They push us to new heights and give us something to strive for. With a road map to setting your expectations everyone can be successful. What expectations do you have for your family and yourself?