As soon as kids are born, they begin seeking personal power. Whether they are struggling to take their first steps or trying to ride their bikes without training wheels, kids have an innate will to make their own way in life—and, we wouldn't want it any other way.
But, as kids grow, this seeking of personal power can wear parents down, lead to kids acting out and create a power struggle. A child's assertiveness for their wants and their resistance to what they don't want only grows. It's important for parents to evolve along with their child's developing need for personal power. By keeping expectations of our changing children realistic as they grow, we can better manage their behavior.
Fortunately, this doesn't mean parents should accept 'bad behavior' as kids are growing. Here are five ways to manage your expectations without accepting poor behavior.
1. Adjust your expectations.
Adjusting expectations doesn't equate to compromising standards. Setting realistic expectations will help parents anticipate and keep up with the changing reality as kids grow. Standards educate and regulate behaviors to conform to an individual's values.
So, as a parent, you can continually adjust expectations that fit with your child's growth that are always based on an unchanging family standard for what is and is not allowed. For example, if a child is refusing to clean up a mess, you can practice patience and listen to why they don't want to clean up while also reminding them that the family rule is that everyone cooperates together, not just one way.
2. Always follow through.
If a standard is important enough to set and a request is important enough to make, parents should consistently supervise compliance with the first and completion with the second. It's important to expect that kids will point out any inconsistencies revealed by our failure to follow through on either of those, too. To avoid this, ensure you're doing what you ask of your kids when applicable, especially if it's a family rule.
3. Offer reasons for rules and requests.
When kids reach age three or four, explanations increasingly have persuasive value. At this point, kids' capacity for reason and to be reasoned with is developing so parents can expect them to become more receptive to simple explanations, including standards we want them to learn.
A child this age understands their role when we say something as simple as, "Now you are getting old enough to help me around the home." If they're resistant, you can explain the reasoning behind the request, such as they could get hurt if they stand on the chair.
4. Reward effort with appreciation.
Each time kids fulfill a request or follow a rule, let them know how much it is appreciated. To encourage cooperation and compliance, parents need to recognize that effort with approval so it reinforces the value of doing what is asked. Our appreciation has motivating power because most kids want to please us and feel valued.
5. Explain the job of a parent versus child.
Just as we need to have realistic expectations that correspond with our growing kids, our children should have a clear expectation that fits our role in their lives, particularly when it comes to deciding what they can and cannot do.
Parents might say to them, "As your mom/dad, I have the final word about what you must and must not do. That is part of my job, and I expect sometimes you won't agree with me. What I can promise you is this: I will be firm when I need to be, flexible where I can, and will always listen to whatever you have to say."
As our kids grow and develop, it is important that parents evolve along with them. It's necessary for us to change our expectations to keep up with our growing kids. But, our changing expectations don't have to compromise standards. If parents can manage to adapt to children's changing needs while adhering to family standards, you can effectively guide children on a healthy path forward.