When circumstances change, expectations sometimes should, too. Children would benefit from realizing this and learning how to do it. Otherwise, they can be discouraged for no good reason.
Jill Savage and I, in our new book No More Perfect Kids: Love Your Kids For Who They Are, write about how setting expectations too high can contribute to children thinking they need to be perfect. We also fully understand that setting expectations too low isn’t healthy either. It can be tricky!
“The sooner we become aware of our expectations and align them with reality, the better it is for us and for our children. … We must look for and use evidence when setting goals and expectations for our children.” p. 14, 28
I spoke in Budapest, Hungary, recently, at a Hearts at Home conference. I knew the crowd response would be different from how people respond to me in America. I knew being translated would change the rhythm. Half the audience would react to what I said and half would respond after hearing the translation. I also knew Eastern Europeans would be more guarded in their responses so there would be fewer facial reactions and less laughter in general.
We had a marvelous day. If I wouldn’t have adjusted my expectations, I would have been distracted, thinking I wasn’t doing well. That distraction would have weakened my skills and I really wouldn’t have done well.
Even though Hungarian moms and moms from the missionary community willingly made eye contact with me, smiled, and nodded when agreeing with me, these occurred much less often than in the States. Members of the local committee that invited us to come assured me throughout the day that women were receiving what I had for them. I was grateful.
Do your children struggle sometimes and get frustrated because things aren’t going as they planned? Did they have some success and, therefore, expect success again? That’s usually appropriate. Perhaps they didn’t “fail” at all. Their circumstances were just different, so they didn’t do as well as in the past. But, in reality, they actually did quite well.
Did fewer youth worship with enthusiasm this past week when your son led worship? Did he feel responsible? Maybe there were many new youth at the meeting and they were unfamiliar with the songs and even with what worship is. It’s not that your son failed.
Was a toddler just getting over a cold and that’s why your daughter’s babysitting job was more challenging than last time? She just needs more experience with sick kids. She didn’t fail.
Did a grandparent’s health crisis distract your son enough that he didn’t do as well on an exam as he’s done in the past? His grade may have had nothing to do with his learning. He didn’t fail.
We need to help our children see they’re still effective worship leaders, babysitters, and students. If we let them believe these new results are normal and their past successes were what was rare, they’ll lower their expectations. Discouragement can set in and they’ll achieve less. They’ll be less joyful and less fulfilled.
Look for opportunities in the future when you can help children assess situations in advance to help them set appropriate expectations. Show them how to make adjustments based on information they have.
Also, when your kids are disappointed by how something goes, help them think about whether their expectations were fair. If they were, and they just didn’t do as well as last time or as well as they thought they would, have them try to determine why it happened and set appropriate expectations for the future.
Maybe sharing my example from Budapest can begin a discussion. Sharing times you changed your expectations and times you wish you would have will also help your children. When might you do this?