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Do we expect too much of our kids? Too little?
Both, actually. Our expectations of children start as fantasies when we are children ourselves. “I’m going to have one boys and two girls.” The fantasies become more serious during pregnancy as we dream of the child-to-be.
In the newborn period, sleep-deprived as we are, we think about our baby’s future. Like a parent in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone where all the children are above average, we have dreamy expectations of our little offspring. We expect our child to be the first on the block to achieve developmental milestones; to excel at school; to have a great personality and be liked by every peer; to be physically coordinated, athletic, and a good sport; and to be of good character, never tell a lie or bully another kid, or smoke pot.
Well, folks, these expectations ain’t going to come to pass for all of us. Reality always trumps dreamy expectations.
In general, parental expectations fall into two categories: expecting too much of our children and expecting too little.
Parents tend to expect behaviors before the child is developmentally ready. For example they expect a toddler to share toys in play group, siblings to always get along, kids to remember what we said. Such parents are expecting too much of their kids. They are being unrealistic and are also worried. “Why doesn’t Max listen to me? What’s wrong with him?”
Parents also expect too little in some pretty crucial areas. We don’t expect young children to do chores and gradually assume their own responsibility for stuff like chores and homework so we keep reminding them. We don’t expect babies to self-calm so we rock them to sleep or let them fall asleep at the breast long after they should be learning their own sleep associations.
The best way to develop realistic expectations is to pay attention to the child’s temperament and personality and learn a bit about child development. Parent in the moment. Don’t worry about what you or the child did wrong yesterday, don’t worry about how the child is going to turn out tomorrow. Think about parenting today in as realistic a way as possible.
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