It’s been a long time since I’ve posted so let me first apologize to my regular blog readers for the big gap between my last post and now. I’m back on track.
Last week in the parenting group I’m leading we got into a discussion about expectations. Trying to get kids to “listen” is a challenge that comes up all the time. I’m always interested in the big picture. I think it’s always more effective getting to the root of something rather than just treating the symptom. Lack of co-operation or bad behavior comes from somewhere. One thing to look at is expectations. Are our expectations always reasonable? Do you find yourself constantly frustrated because your three or four year old won’t clean up her/his room? Are you yelling all the time because your preschooler isn’t getting dressed fast enough? Conversely, are you over-functioning for your ten year old? Are you doing things for her she she’s very capable of doing herself? Both situations have long term consequences.
One way to learn what is reasonable to expect from any age group is to educate yourself around “ages and stages”. Is it reasonable to expect a four year old to clean his room with no guidance? Is it reasonable to give a series of tasks to a six year old and expect her to remember them all and perform them to your satisfaction? Is it reasonable to be walking a twelve your old to school? Is it reasonable for a seven year old to make her own breakfast? When we made adjustments to our expectations, we can often ease a lot of tension and nagging. Sometimes we need to expect less and sometimes we need to expect more.
I’ve worked with a lot of parents who come to me for help in getting their kids to contribute more around the house. They report that nothing seems to work despite their constant nagging and threatening. I often want to know specifically what their expectations are and often I find they’re beyond what is reasonable for the age of their children. Does it mean we shouldn’t expect our kids to do anything? Of course not. Often though, it requires more guidance on our part. If we have an expectation that our child should be cleaning his room every week, it helps if we can break down the task. You might start out by asking that she just take off the dirty sheets and put them in the laundry. Then go on to something else. It works the same when asking a young child to clean up his toys. Start by just asking that he pick up all the blocks. Better still, ask if he’d like to pick up the blocks or the action figures. When given a choice kids feel they have some power so they’re more likely to co-operate.
Often with older kids we don’t expect enough and we send a message that they’re not capable. All kids are capable of picking up their dirty clothes and putting them into a hamper. They’re capable of taking their dirty dishes to the sink or putting them in the dishwasher. They’re capable of feeding a pet and setting the table. If we want our kids to become independent we have to encourage it and provide an environment where it’s nurtured.
Take a hard look at your expectations. Are you expecting too much from a very young child or not enough from your school-aged child? What would change if you made adjustments to your expectations? How would letting go make you feel? How would your child feel in the long term, by you expecting more?