By Stephanie O’Leary, Psy.D.,
Like everything else in this world, parenting is a job that has its ups and downs. There are moments of joy when the job perks are crystal clear, and other times when it seems that things are completely out of control. At the end of the day, it's likely that parent expectations factor into the equation and contribute to these highs and lows. The good news here is that every mom, dad and caregiver can take stock, re-evaluate, and fine tune their expectations to minimize disappointments and shift toward successful outcomes.
One thing to consider is that parenting is not a “one size fits all” endeavor. Children are born with their own “big” personalities that must be taken into account when developing expectations. For example, some children tend to be more self-directed while others need prompting and redirection in order to accomplish even the simplest things. In addition, every child reacts differently to caregiver’s responses. Some do best when you to increase the volume of your voice while others may perceive you to be shouting even before you open your mouth or utter a word.
So, what do you do?
The key here is to stop and take a minute to evaluate your child’s strengths and challenges. Then, try to alter your expectations accordingly. If you are trying to teach personal responsibility and also want your son or daughter to keep their room neat, you could ask them to take care of certain cleaning and rearranging tasks as soon as they come home or allow them to wait until later in the evening. If your child is often tired, easily frustrated, and prone to tantrums upon arriving home for the day, it may work better for them to have some time to relax before beginning chore-like tasks. Alternately, if bed-time is more of a challenge, getting daily responsibilities out of the way earlier may pave the way for a more stress-free evening.
Another important factor regarding expectations is to keep in mind your child’s developmental level. For example, younger children will naturally require a high degree of one-to-one attention and direction in order to carry out activities including simple clean-up tasks. While you assist your young child with picking up their toys, you may be doing the bulk of the work, but you are also modeling how to persevere and succeed. As your son or daughter matures, you can slowly adjust your expectations until they are more independent. It is important to remember that each new responsibility will have some degree of a learning curve, and if things are not moving smoothly that may be your first clue that more guidance and attention is required.
When all is said and done, if you find yourself in the midst of a desperate parenting moment, stop and ask yourself “What do I expect right now?” This seemingly simple question can shed a great deal of light on situations, and will hopefully help you and your children experience more smooth sailing and quicker course corrections to get things back on track.
Sharing practical strategies that help parents rediscover joy in their children (even when someone's crying, the phone is ringing, and it smells like the house may be burning down)