5 Common Challenges In Setting Healthy Expectations For Our Kids

Tuesday, 13.02.2018


Your toddler is growing up and you need to set new goals and expectations for them. What are the challenges and how do you cope with it? While we are excited for what’s ahead, we also worry whether our kids are reaching the right milestones in life. In the process, we discover that we actually do have certain expectations for them that aren’t all that easy to convey. Here we share 5 common challenges when faced with setting healthy expectations for our kids. 

We all know that a parent’s love is immeasurable, and that parents always want the best for our children. But we also wonder if it is right to push them ahead in life, or to take a very relaxed approach. What should be the right balance in helping our child develop in life? 

The reason why such thoughts bug parents is because we have intrinsic expectations for our child’s learning and behaviour, that may be beyond a child’s current understanding. Unintentionally, we may judge our child based on societal expectations, and may end up punishing or setting over-bearing rules to get results, creating stress and unhappiness. 

Are you faced with such challenges when managing your child? If you’ve realised that as a parent you do actually have high expectations, you could take small steps to help ease your child into it gradually. This will not only boost a child’s confidence but add a sense of achievement for parents.

Challenge #1: Knowing Whether Your Expectations are Too High?

Living in a fast-paced city like Singapore, many parents tend to get competitive and overestimate their kids’ abilities of self-control, sociability, mental and physical development. 

Every child develops differently and at their own pace. Expectations for a child are typically set too high when comparing with an older sibling, a colleague’s child, or even our parents’ vague memory of our own childhood. Instinctively, we then compare our child to another, rather than to nurture them individually. 

However, we must understand that one child may walk before he learns to talk, while another talks before taking his first step. Your child has his own pace, so don’t rush them to compete in a race that should not even exist. Understand your child from where they are, and it will reduce both your stress and your child’s, making learning more enjoyable. 

Therefore, as parents, do review your expectations regularly to evaluate whether you may be setting expectations that are too high, or just right.

Challenge #2: Inconsistency in Rules at Home

Let’s talk about “screen time”, which refers to the hours spent in front of the television, computer or smartphone. In a modern era, this is one of the biggest challenge parents face --- to try to set short, allocated screen times for their child, which they will then get accustomed to. 

For example, a parent is rushing an important document and is unable to entertain the child during off-screen time, what happens? They naturally give them additional screen time to avoid any form of disturbance. This could also happen during meal times, or other situations. Over time, the child will develop an expectation for screen time and demand for more. But then the parent may suddenly choose to punish the child for asking for too much “screen time”. 

At this point, the child is confused, angry and the parent is frustrated and judgmental on their child’s behaviour. This can be avoided if rules were consistent.

It is not always easy indeed, but parents can try engaging the child in other activities that will leave you with some quiet time all the same. For example, you could try craftwork, magnetic drawing boards, or other toys. Art or craft work may be messy but cleaning up is much easier compared to re-parenting.

Challenge #3: Letting Emotions Control the Situation

It is normal for a child to throw tantrums. For example, a sudden change in bedtime hours would naturally lead to a cranky child at an event. The challenge for parents is to react positively despite the temptation to display anger.

Why is it not ok to react with anger? Because children may not even understand why they are making you angry. They may be able to sit and complete a task one day but be consistently distracted the next day. So when a child fails to meet your expectations on behaving well or doing what you want them to do, do you display positive or negative emotions towards your child? 

You might say, “It’s ok, let’s try again” or “Try again!” -- In both contexts the message seems an encouraging one, but if an angry tone was added to the second context, the meaning would be very different. A child is indirectly motivated or discouraged based on what we say; and a positive tone of voice is a crucial tool in helping our child react positively in future.

Challenge #4: Non-Verbal Communication

Even before they understand words, it is important to remember that our children are reading our non-verbal body language all the time! 

For example, the tone of voice we take when speaking to our children, or even among husband and wife as a couple could affect a child’s disposition that day. Children are smart enough to pick up any negative undertones and they can be easily discouraged by it, leading to a display of bad behaviour, while the parent is still clueless to why this could have come about. 

Non-verbal communication also includes more than just our voices. It could include things like spending more time with our child, or showing more affection through touch, hugs and kisses. Do we convey our love sufficiently for our children to ensure that they are feeling secure and happy? If not, it may be no wonder that a child may suddenly seem a little less compliant that day.  

Challenge #5: Meeting Your Child’s Expectations Too!

Our children can have expectations of their parents too! For example, we may label the child as misbehaving when he refuses to take a nap. Our first reaction would be to force the child to sleep, in which he will refuse and try harder to escape, resulting in a more frustrated parent who sometimes reaches a point when we do the unthinkable – slapping the child. 

But think of it this way: Imagine you’re in a party and being forced to sleep when there is so much excitement going on. Would you like it? Or how about those long nights when you become a victim of insomnia? 

Your child could be experiencing the same and requests some understanding in return. The key is to remain calm and try to look at it from your child’s point of view and adjust your expectations instead. And we truly agree that this is no easy feat!

Well, at the end of the day, our children’s expectations of us are influenced by what they are exposed to daily. So as parents, we have the responsibility to lead by example and be patient in explaining to our child any actions that need correction. With proper understanding and positive motivation from us, our children can definitely learn to meet our expectations as well. 

“Let Children Be Children”

Finally, let’s remember to let children be children. They will mess up – our jobs are simply to be their guardians and educators. 

If there is a need for discipline, a reasonable expectation must first be set and communicated clearly. So take a step back, look at things from a different perspective; and never let your emotion control the situation!

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