5 things you should stop expecting from your kids (and what to do instead)

We all expect certain things from our children, whether it's for them to listen to everything we ask or to always be on their best behavior in public. But sometimes the things we expect can do more harm than good—and aren't exactly reasonable.

Here are five things to simply stop expecting from them and what you can do instead.

1. For them to be good all the time

If you think about it, expecting our children to “be good" doesn't make any sense. No one is good all of the time. Everyone has lousy days. Everyone has days they're just not up to doing the things they should. Everyone has days when they need to be sad or mad or frustrated. Expecting our little ones to “be good" fails to teach them what is actually expected of them as it focuses on what they're doing wrong.

What you can do instead:

  • Be specific about what being “good" means: “I want you to share your toys with your sister." Instead of saying “You're such a good boy," say “Thanks for reading to your brother," or “Thanks for putting your toys away by yourself."
  • No one is good all of the time, so give your children some grace. Overlooking some of the “bad things" when they're non-priorities and do no harm to your child or others will make your parenting journey smoother.

2. To act older than they are

Kids are many things. They can be angels one minute and drive you up the wall the next. They're sometimes curious, sometimes quiet, and sometimes sneaky. For the most part, kids act their age but they do need to explore, try out new things and be silly. Let them enjoy their childhood a bit more, even if that means playing baby when they're a toddler. 😉

What you can do instead:

  • Know that kids will be kids and encourage them to explain how they're feeling or why they're acting a bit younger.
  • Be attentive to those kids who act older than they are. Just because your child acts older than she is doesn't make her an adult.

3. To behave like other kids

It's normal to notice that your son is more outspoken and your daughter is more reserved, or that your daughter is the shortest or tallest kid in her class. While we all compare our kids to other kids, consciously or unconsciously, when comparisons are verbalized, it can do harm.

Evidence suggests that unfavorably comparing siblings can have far-reaching negative consequences on the sibling judged to be “less competent." When we compare our children unfavorably to others, we send them the message that they're not good enough. We tell them they should aspire to be like someone else.

Likewise, when we compare our kids favorably to others, we teach them that they have to be better than others instead of being their best selves. When your son puts in little effort and you accept his mediocre results because he's at the same level as his friends, you send him the message that minimum effort is acceptable.

What you can do instead:

  • Teach your child that you expect his best, and that his best is always enough.
  • Focus on your child's strengths and weaknesses, not on how well or poorly her pals are doing.
  • Set realistic expectations. There is evidence that children thrive when we set “great" expectations.

4. To conform to the 'norm'

Have you noticed that you sometimes react differently to your child's behavior depending on whether you're in the company of others or by yourselves? We all do it, mama. In fact, many of our parenting habits are dictated by our environment. We may not necessarily agree with social norms or even some family norms and values, but we nonetheless attempt to impose those norms on our children—voluntarily or involuntarily.

What you can do instead

  • Trust that you are a good enough parent and be ready to stand by your parenting choices. Remember that your children learn much from watching you. When you stand by your beliefs, you teach them that their beliefs are valid.
  • Accept that your child is an individual in her own right.
  • Identify your own parenting priorities and values.

5. To be unlike you

Children, especially when they're young, are often an extension of their parents. When our children see us save regularly, they're more likely to become savers themselves. When we have a negative perception of much that happens in our lives, they're also bound to develop a pessimistic view of things. When they hear us yell because we're angry, they learn that yelling is an acceptable way to express one's emotions.

What you can do instead

  • Don't tell your child how he should act; show him through your own behavior. As James Baldwin once said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them."

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