Updated: Nov 12, 2022
When was the last time you didn't question your responsibilities to your job or members of your family? Those are expectations. Even if I don’t know how to do something, I’m expected to find out and do it, right?
What about the last time people expected you to fail? Was it easier for you or did you feel more pressure to succeed?
Without expectations, we wouldn’t be able to count on much from ourselves or others. Expectations make the world go round every day.
Chances are that you already have some expectations. Verbally communicate them to your children, and don’t forget the importance of demonstrating those expectations repeatedly. Examples:
We get up each morning and make our bed, brush our teeth, and get dressed.
We say, "Yes," and not, "Yeah," or, "What?".
We follow the rules of the places we visit and represent our family well.
We sit with our family during meals whether we decide to eat or not.
When expectations aren't met, I respond with a question, "We're eating, where should you be?" "Why aren't you looking at your morning lists?" "When we don't know what to do next, what are we supposed to do?" There's no discipline at play here, only reminders until it becomes second nature. Expectations stack themselves as children get older: you may be 17, but you’re still putting those crayons away.
Age appropriateness: Start with small things in the early ages (3-4) like reaching for dad's hand when crossing the street, or putting crayons away when we are done. You're going to have to do it with them for a while but remember that you're creating connections in their brains (cause/effect) and that will not only establish good habits, but it will also familiarize them with the concept of expectations and reasonable independence. This is the not the age to show them frustration, this is the age to condition yourself as a dad to be loving and patient. I screwed this one up a lot with my first, and I’m still not perfect.
Unrealistic grades: you can’t go from Cs and Ds to straight As overnight (usually).
Perfect mornings every day: something will distract them occasionally.
Smiles at the dinner table every night: If they’re expected to be there “or else,” they’re not going to be happy every time.
When I have no idea what to do, I know how to fill in the blanks with the expectations my parents instilled in me. I'm instilling expectations in my kids so I don't have to micromanage them now or later in life. Expectations are power tools in parenting. Use them morally and wisely.