Parenting Mistake 3. Setting Unrealistic Expectations

by | Jun 28, 2009 | Uncategorized

This week I’m blogging about common parenting mistakes that we may making –and usually quite unintentionally. Being aware of them and changing our response can make a significance difference on our children’s behavior, attitude and character. 

MISTAKE #3: Setting Unrealistic Expectations

Solution: Use developmentally appropriate, realistic, child and success-oriented expectations. 


Research proves a powerful determiner of kids’ success is the kind of expectations their parents set. Expecting too little limits kids’ success because they’re robbed from trying new possibilities. Unrealistic expectations are also damaging: “Why didn’t you get all A’s?” “How did you not make the team?” “You got a 98%- which two did you miss?” and may be misinterpreted as, “You’re not good enough.”

These four questions help ensure expectations gently stretch kids’ potential to become their best without pushing them to be more than they can be:

  • Developmentally appropriate.  Is your child developmentally ready for the tasks you’re requiring or are you 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 kid in too difficult of situations, puts him at the risk of failing and lowering his feelings of competence. Aim for “one step more.”
  • Child’s goal, not your goal.  Is what you’re expecting something your child wants, or is it something you want for yourself? 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. Are you sending the kind of expectations that tell your child you 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.
Watch how you respond to your child in each of those four areas. Is there one area you can tune up? If so, what would your first step be to make that change happen?
Think big, but start small. The key to parenting success is continuing to take consistent “baby steps” in the same direction until you see the change you hope for in your child.  

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Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including the upcoming The Big Book of Parenting Solutions available this fall. Portions of this blog are excerpted from this book.