“All Children WILL Exceed Expectations”
This sounds like one of those feel good phrases that we sometimes see in middle school hallways, but that in truth, no one really believes.
I actually believe it, though sometimes the expectations we have are not the ones we think we’re communicating. Here’s an example:
Parent and child are in some sort of conflict, discipline moment when the child sasses something at the parent. The parent angrily responds with something like: “I don’t think so, young lady! If you think you’re going to disrespect me then you’re even more sadly mistaken than I realized! You are going to learn to control your temper!”
Note: Be sure to look at this picture to really get the full flavor of not only what the mom said, but how she said it.
Ironically, the expectation stated is not the one more strongly communicated… that if one feels passionately enough, it’s okay to behave in disrespectful manner and lose your temper!
Another way parents sometimes accidentally set up negative expectations is in how they speak about their children. I recently overhear a mom tell her friend (within earshot of the child), “He’s my wild child. Always on the go and never sits down to draw or color or look at a book.” This may be true and yet it reinforces to the child that this is who he is… and I’m sure that he will fulfill those expectations communicated.
It works positively, too. At Olivia’s dance class one of the mom’s told me (within earshot of the child) about what a wonderful big sister her daughter is to her little brother. And, it was true! I watched the little girl gently guide her brother out of the dance room and into the watch room and also saw how happy the little brother was to see her when she came out at the end of class.
Of course, these sorts of comments have to be genuine and true! Imagine a father and daughter are at the park and the little girl has been pushing her way in front of other children, yelling in their faces, shoving anyone who gets in her way and in general, has just been a bully. Now imagine that as the little girl comes close the father makes a point to say something like, “Caitlin sure is a good friend and is fun to be around.” The only expectations set up there are that:
- Dad is a weenie (or a fool) who is not competent.
- I can do whatever I want to whomever I want.
Unfortunately, the father in this scenario has communicated some expectations that he didn’t intend to send!
I think that communicating expectations is a powerful reinforcing tool for parents–either for good or ill. We just have to be conscious of what we are reinforcing!