Are Parents Setting Expectations Too High?

Expectations put a strain on our children and only leads to a source of conflict. When children don't do as we ask, we need to change our communication.

Are Parents Setting Expectations Too High? | We set expectations that actively strain what we want for our children and only leads to a source of conflict. | Ben Jackson Coach | @benjacksoncoach

We set expectations that actively strain what we want for our children and only leads to a source of conflict.

Whilst there will be times when conflict arises for not apparent reason, we can often set ourselves, and our kids, up to fail. And often it’s because of unrealistic expectations.

If nothing else, there is one constant in any type of relationship: everything comes down to the quality of your communication.

Whilst you may be excellent communicator in other parts of your life, are you really a good enough communicator when it comes to your children? One thing that I’ve learnt is that it’s important to not assume you’ve been understood. 

See also: 10 Ways to Help an Angry Child

Expectation & Habitual Thinking

We are accustomed to thinking and speaking in shorthand. What might be obvious and self-explanatory may completely bamboozle a child. This may leave them confused and uncertain of what they need to do.

There is little point to tell a child you’re going to the park in 15 minutes, if the child can’t tell the time. Though it’s obvious and maybe a silly example, it’s one I’ve heard multiple times from parents.

When children don’t do as we ask, it is highly valuable to make sure they actually have understood what we mean.

A Brief Example

A friend recently shared an exercise he’d recently used when teaching in Zambia. He wanted to highlight to the students how much information we delete when we explain something. How much we assume we’ve communicated or believe to be understood.

He began by asking them to imagine that an alien had arrived in the school. In groups the students had to write instructions to explain to the alien how to put on a shoe. He then played the role of the alien. All he had to do was to follow the instructions each group read out.

He’d be told to ‘Put the shoe on’. So he put the shoe on top of his foot. They changed the instruction: ‘Undo the laces’. So he unthreaded all the laces. ‘Put the shoe on the left foot’. But not knowing which was right from left, it had to be explained in a different way. He wanted the students to notice that sometimes it is us who need to adjust our communication rather become frustrated that our instructions aren’t followed.

A Change of Expectations

It harks back to an important point I’ve mentioned before: we need to enter the world of the child. We need to see the world through their eyes.

I remember struggling to explain the times table to my son. 3 x 3 will always equal 9 yet it’s so ingrained in our thinking that it’s not something we question or need to explain. We need to find ways to help them understand and to break our shorthand thinking.

If you can take anything from this article, it is to ask more questions of your children if you’re not getting the response that you want. Perhaps we need to strip back what seems so obvious to us and repackage it so children can understand it.

Why not check out: 5 Top Tips to Persuade Kids to do What You Want 


I’m inviting you to consider that there is a benefit of reviewing what you assume your child knows. It may be we need to check in and see whether they understand what our expectations.

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About the Author

Ben Jackson is a registered counsellor, coach, and lecturer with nearly 10 years of professional experience. He helps clients with stress and anxiety, anger management, self esteem, confidence, and depression.

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