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Kids Are Our Expectations

Have you ever wondered why the “good” kid seems to do better and better, and the “not-so-good” one just keeps messing up again and again?

boy looking pleased with himself

“You don't show any appreciation; you need to start being respectful,” “You need to understand that if you don’t do your homework, you’ll never go to college,” or “You need to clean up this room because you can’t live like this” seem innocuous enough. Aren’t we just showing them they need to shape up?

The thing is, these well-intended attempts to encourage better behavior can back-handedly cause kids to believe they can’t be good enough and it’s not worth trying. Even just thinking, “How in the world is she such a scatterbrain?” “How is he so disrespectful,” or “How did I raise such a brat?” creates an energy that sneaks through. They see the disapproval in your eyes, they feel it in the air, and they “get” it at a cellular level.

The word ‘education’ is derived from educere: to draw forth, and educare: to nourish or bring up, which means that our role is to nourish the good qualities and draw out the best in them. What? That means that we are supposed to project our confidence that they are kind, grateful, or responsible even when they’re not?

"But she is so disrespectful! Why in the world would I tell her otherwise?”

Illogical as it seems, when we insist that our children never get it right, they can start to believe that it’s just not in their nature to do well or get it right. And what’s the point in trying if no one notices anyway. It’s as though we are giving them permission to give up.

Make a Moment

It’s human nature to focus on the negative aspects and hone in on what they are lacking.

  • “Pushing that boy was so mean. Why are you always so mean?”

  • “I don’t care if you don’t like socks. You’re so ungrateful; go and thank your grandmother right now!”

  • “Stop hitting the dog. You’re so mean to animals; can’t you see that it hurts?”

  • “Once again, you’ve shown me that you can’t be trusted.”

Try speaking about your child as if they embody the qualities you want them to have, even if they don't always match up to that ideal.

  • “I know you're such a respectful boy; Jake must have really hurt your feelings.”

  • "I know you're feeling grateful even if you didn’t want socks for Christmas - it’s hard for all of us to remember to express that.”

  • “I know you didn’t mean to hurt Poppi. She growls and runs away when she’s scared.”

  • “I’d like to hear what happened. I know you always try to make good choices.”

Why It Works

Whether you think they can, or you think they can’t, you’re right. When you hold children in the highest version of themselves, just after a few days, you might notice that your child starts to behave in ways that align with the image you created.

Research shows that believing that children are capable of the behavior you want increases the likelihood that they will try and live up to that expectation. Parents' thoughts have a much greater impact than we sometimes realize–not only on who they are now but also for who they can become in the future. In other words, if you want your child to thrive, it’s worth raising the bar!

Kids are our expectations: they respond to and reflect back to us our expectations and opinions of them.

Your MicroStep

Choose your words wisely: use them to build your children up rather than tear them down. Your beliefs about your child's capabilities have immense power to shape your child’s character and determine the type of adult they become.

GOT A MINUTE? Look for one opportunity today when you don't agree with what your child is saying and make a commitment to have a short conversation and accept what she's saying. I repeat accept, accept, accept in my head to keep myself from butting in!

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