What is a Healthy Level of Expectation for Your Child?

Clearly setting expectations for your child, whether for general behaviour, academic goals or any other aspect of daily life, is key for their development. One of the most important things here is setting realistic expectations and targets that suit the child – some children may struggle where others thrive, so it’s about knowing how to define your expectations in a way that helps the individual grow.

At our independent primary school, we are dedicated to creating a safe and supportive environment where children can reach their full potential. Discover how you can set healthy expectations to support your child’s endeavours in and out of school.

Why Set High Expectations For Children?

Expectations can act as a guideline for your child, covering both short and long-term goals and challenges. First, you must consider what your expectations for your child are and how realistic it is that they can fulfil them.

Generally, having high expectations can be healthy, as it keeps children safe and encourages them to work towards their goals. For example, when your child understands why and how they’re expected to behave on a trip to the supermarket, everything is more likely to run smoothly. Likewise, when they have a specific grade or target to work towards with their school work, they are more likely to take actionable steps to reach it.

What Happens When You Have Unreasonable Expectations?

However, enforcing unrealistic expectations or those that aren’t supported can cause stress, anxiety and rebellion from more realistic goals. This is especially relevant for academic expectations. When you expect something your child cannot fulfil yet, it sets them up for feelings of failure or negativity.

You will need to find a balance that works for your family when it comes to ensuring your children respect authority and work towards goals without feeling like they aren’t ‘good enough’ if expectations aren’t always met.

So, what should parents do to ensure they are setting healthy and useful expectations as their children develop?

St Peter’s Prep pupils painting in art class

1. View Your Child as an Individual

Children develop at different rates; what your child can and will achieve may be different from their peers. When setting expectations with your child, always keep their individual achievements, strengths and challenges in mind.

Comparing will often do more harm than good. You must treat your child’s progress independently of other people’s achievements.

2. Don’t Project Your Own Challenges Onto Them

It can be easy to remain negative about subjects and things you yourself struggled with in school. Children will often pick up on this negativity, and you may inadvertently encourage a lower expectation of themself.

While maths may not have been your strength, it might be one of your child’s best and most enjoyed subjects. Academic enthusiasm should be encouraged and supported, with expectations set around the reality of their strengths and challenges.

3. Be Enthusiast With Encouragement & Support

There is a fine line between promoting higher self-esteem and encouraging your child to achieve their full potential and putting too much emphasis on failures or underachieved expectations.

Verbally telling children what you expect but not offering emotional support or constructive guidance is not a particularly healthy or productive way to help them. Be open and enthusiastic with your encouragement, from completing daily chores to achieving better test marks, most expectations are met more easily when your child is assured they CAN do it.

how to best help children with their homework

4. Focus on Positive & Realistic Expectations

If your child has trouble following rules or meeting their goals, it’s essential you focus on realistic targets that can be met and built on over time. Start with positive changes that show your child the necessity of certain structures and expectations.

If your child feels like what you expect of them is not achievable, they may be less likely to make an effort in the first place; whether it’s the expectation to clean their room every week or get a certain grade in multiple subjects.

5. Develop Easily-Achievable Goals

Following on from this, breaking down long-term targets and expectations into smaller, more manageable goals is a great way to get the ball rolling when it comes to making positive change.

Making more immediate achievements that set them up for fulfilling future expectations is a great way to keep your child motivated and likely to meet higher expectations in the long run.

A young St Peter’s Prep pupil filling in a worksheet

6. Prioritise Clear Communication

When setting out goals and expectations, talk them through with your child and, where necessary, make a plan of action together to make tasks, chores or things like homework feel more doable.

Be clear about what you expect, and if your child isn’t doing their part to meet the expectations you’ve set out together, remain open with your communication. Explain again why certain goals are in place without diminishing any effort they have put in.

7. Be Consistent

Expectations will often have to be trained, with parents reminding and correcting children when rules are broken. Be consistent and patient with reminders, setting out clear consequences if behaviour or attitude continues to be poor and no effort is put into meeting expectations. So, set clear boundaries and ensure they’re enforced consistently.

The benefits of introducing your child to easy chores

8. Accept That There Will Be Challenges

Try not to view your child’s behaviour or academic performance with an all-or-nothing attitude. There will be challenges or times when your child does not meet your expectations; this doesn’t mean they never will.

Children are constantly changing and progressing, so give them room to make mistakes and grow, ready to lend your support when they need it.

9. Be Flexible

It’s natural that, over time, your expectations will change, transforming to support your child as they get older and continue to develop. However, it’s important you remain open to shifting your expectations, even when this might not match up with the expected timeline.

Life is unpredictable, and every child is different, so be flexible and willing to reassess goals or previous expectations that are no longer achievable or relevant.

10. Celebrate Achievements

Acknowledge when your child has exceeded expectations or moved past something with which they were particularly struggling. Appreciating achievements and praising them with enthusiasm can go a long way in encouraging your child to continue trying their best in the future.

Let your child enjoy their successes without hurrying them along to the next goal.

The benefits of positive reinforcement for children

Ultimately, supporting your child and keeping them motivated are the best things you can do to ensure they’re able to meet expectations and achieve all they can!

At St Peter’s Prep, we support each of our pupils as individuals, providing learning opportunities to engage all curious minds. To find out more about school life and our approach to education, please request a prospectus.

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