Let’s face it: the expectations we set for our children do affect their self-esteem and capacity to succeed. This week I taped another fun segment with Dr. Phil on the “Overparenting” vs. “Underparenting” craze. (It has yet to air… but should be up on the schedule soon). He asked me what advice I had for a mom who was clearly in “Helicopter Mode” — how could she scale back and change her Black Hawk Mode ways? And how, he asked, would she know if she’s pushing too hard or not enough? I offered the mom my Rubber Band Test. Here it is along with five simple steps to help you realign your expectations to your child’s capabilities.
The Rubber Band Test
Pick up a good strong rubber band. Hold it firmly at both ends with two hands. Now consider your own list of expectations for your child. For everything that doesn’t appear to be a good fit (like you expect him to be a great defensive cornerback and he’s more into playing chess) then pull the band more tightly. For everything that seems more natural (like your daughter love to sing so you’ve just bought her a guitar) then let the band relax a little. Think every expectation you’re placing on your child. If the band gets so taunt it’s in danger of snapping, you and your kid are in trouble. Your goal is to be sensitive with the necessary match of who your kid really is and what you want him to be. A good measure of your sensitivity as a mother is to be able to set expectations that gently stretch your children to become their best without snapping their spirit.
Five Simple Steps to Check Your Expectations
To make sure the expectations you set for your children are ones that stretch their potential without unintentionally zapping their self-worth go through these five steps:
Step One: Are my expectations fit the Rubber Band Test?
Good expectations fit these four categories:
- Developmentally Appropriate. Is my child developmentally ready for the tasks I’m requiring or am I pushing him beyond his internal timetable? Learn what’s appropriate for your child’s age, but still keep in mind that developmental guidelines are not etched in stone. It’s always best to start from where your child is.
- Realistic. Is my expectation fair and reasonable, or am I expecting too much? Realistic expectations stretch kids to aim higher, without pushing them beyond their capabilities. Be careful of setting too high of standards. Putting your child in situations that are too difficult, puts him in the risk of failing and lowering his feelings of competence.
- Child Oriented. Is what I’m expecting something my child wants, or is it something I want more for myself? We all want our kids to be successful, but we have to constantly be wary of setting goals for our kids that are our dreams, and not those of our kids.
- Success Oriented. Am I sending the kind of expectations that tell my child I believe he’s responsible, reliable, and worthy? Effective expectations encourage kids to be their best, so that they can develop a solid belief in themselves.
Don’t get so wrapped up in your hopes and dreams for your child’s future that you lose sight of what matters in most the here and now. After all, what could be more important than your child knowing that you love and cherish him for who he is—not for what you want him to be and how you hope he will become?
Step Two. Tune into what’s really going on with your kid
Put down that cell phone. Don’t worry about the dust. Be intentional. Take time every day—I’m not talking hours, just a few minutes—take a good look at your child’s life and how things are going.
Step Three. Check your kid’s vital signs.
First the face: are his eyes sparkling or flat? Is he scowling or smiling? Next the body language: is she relaxed or stiff? Slumped down or coiled up? Finally, the voice: is it tense and edgy or warm and resonate? Are you hearing whines or laughter? Any sudden change in behavior: Clinginess? Anger or temper tantrums? Avoiding situations? Negativity? Loss or big increase of appetite? Too little or too much sleep. Remember, your child isn’t going to come up and say outright, “You’re making demands on me I can’t fulfill” but there are many ways, if you’re sensitive, you can see that for yourself.
Step Four. Identify the specific misfit between expectation and reality.
Is that accelerated class too hard? Is the soccer coach too demanding? Are you too critical of his grades? Is that clique you’ve encouraged your kid to join too upscale? Talk to your spouse, the teacher, or your best friend.
Step Five. Take action to remove the mismatch your expectation and reality. Find a better class. Take a soccer break. Back off from stressing over grade point average. Let your child choose his own friends.
Remain vigilante and sensitive to your kid’s needs. Never stop checking for stress and overload, identifying the potential causes and taking action to provide the remedy.
For more ideas to help you tailor your parenting to your child’s capabilities so your son or daughter is more likely to survive and thrive refer to The Big Book of Parenting Soltuions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries especially the chapters on Disorganized, Overscheduled, Dependent, Perfectionist, Procrastinates, Gives Up.