A child goes for an evaluation after displaying behavioral problems. To the mother and in front of the child, the professional says, “Well, you’ll just end up sending her off, she’ll mess up again.” Another child hears from his father, “You are lazy. Why can’t you get anything right?” Still another child is told, “You are having some challenges now, but I believe you can do it. Keep trying.” In examining these three situations, most of us would probably agree that the first two children will end up in trouble while the third has a good chance of succeeding, all because of expectations.
Expectation is defined as “eager anticipation,” “to look forward to the probable occurrence or appearance of.” When we think about “expectation,” especially during this time of year, we probably feel full of hope and anticipation. Our expectations can provide the impetus we need to accomplish a task and fill us with energy. Expectation can excite those around us.
There is a flip side to expectation, though. As easily as it can energize us, it can also trap us into a way of acting or reacting. If expectations are off base, it can set up those around us to fail.
Like it or not, people often live up to the expectations of those around them. Tell someone that they are a failure often enough and they will do their best to prove you right. Believe that you are a failure and you will fail. Why is this? It is because our belief carries with it great power. As humans, we love to be right. If we believe that something will occur, we will make decisions and take actions to fulfill that belief.
So it is with children. Don’t get me wrong, children need expectations. They need to have rules and boundaries that are consistent and appropriate. They benefit from reasonable consequences as outcome for choices made. As adults though, we must be wary of our expectations. If our expectations are not high enough, children may fail to reach their potential. If our expectations are too high, we can inadvertently set them up to fail.
Perhaps we serve others better by carefully evaluating our expectations of them and accepting them, strengths, weaknesses and all. This is difficult to do since “accepting” something or someone is to regard them as true. This doesn’t mean that we assent to their actions. This doesn’t mean that we must live with their choices. Especially with children, we have to implement structure and consequences.
Acceptance means that we don’t try to make a person fit into the mold we have designed. We simply regard their actions as the indicator of where they are in life and of the path they have chosen. We may grieve over this path. We may not be able to walk the path with them. However, we give them the freedom to make their own choices and to live with the consequences of those choices. In short, we allow them to be their authentic self.
Children need guidelines. They need freedom and acceptance. Most of all, they need to hear reasonable expectations. They benefit from expectations that set them up for success. These are not easy gifts to give (sometimes they are not easy gifts to receive). However, these gifts are one of the best ways we can teach children that they have power over their own lives and that they can believe in themselves. May you eagerly expect success in your life and family this coming year!
Tina Bartleson is the executive director of the Exchange Club Family Resource Center, which provides in-home parent education and mentoring to families with children 0-12 years. She has 29 years experience working with families and may be contacted through www.exchangeclubfrc.org.