No matter your general mood, having positive, realistic expectations for your child's achievements and behavior is something to strive for. When parents' expectations for their kids are set at the right level-not too high and not too low-kids do very well in life indeed. Here then, are some specific tools for setting reasonable expectations that even the gloomiest donkey can follow.
- Assess your kid as an individual.
- Understand your child's developmental stage.
Who Is Your Child?
Be very careful about comparing your child to others. Every child develops at a different rate.
Stop trying to fit your child into a mold. Social scientists and child development specialists have been studying enough children for long enough that they've quantified their data into big charts and graphs to tell you what's “average”-physical, social, and intellectual-for a child of a particular age. In reality, there's no such thing as an exactly “average” child.
You can't set a personal expectation or goal for your child without taking that individual child into consideration. It's very attractive to try, especially if you've been reading the charts in too many child development books or have older kids. (“Eliza was washing her own hair by the time she was four, Tina should be doing it, too.”) Forget all the other kids, forget the books, ask yourself some simple questions: What is reasonable to expect from this child? What are her abilities, needs, accomplishments? What's her basic temperament? What's her stage of development? In order to set appropriate expectations for your child, you have to really know her.
Adjust to Your Child's Level
When you're assessing your child for “reasonable” behavior, take temperament and development into consideration, and adjust your expectations to meet his capabilities. If your child can't tolerate an elevator ride to the top of the Empire State Building, then chances are he won't tolerate the wonderful plane ride to Disneyland, either.
Charts, Graphs, Uneven Development
Tales from the Parent Zone
Jane's son Patrick has a wide spread of abilities (he's got a firm grasp of planetary environments and has mastered the subjunctive tense, but he struggles to write his name). Patrick has what's known as a "jagged" profile. I say viva la jag! We all want our kids to achieve and excel, and it's hard to step back and let them develop at their own rates. But from toilet training to reading to swimming to dating to getting a job, every child is on a different, individual timeline, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Your child will test older than average in some areas of the development charts, and will be younger than average in others. Try to accept her for who she is.
It's also helpful to know what to expect in general from children at certain ages. A friend of mine who has a daughter with a nonverbal learning disability was delighted when I overheard little Posie swearing a blue streak at her sister and taunting, “You're just a ba-by!” “That's so typical,” I said. “Doesn't the constant taunting of five-year-olds drive you nuts?” “You mean your daughter taunts?” “Her eyes filled with tears. “Of course,” I said, "it's developmental.” My friend, who had been spending nights stressing out about her daughter's rudeness and lack of social skills suddenly relaxed, as she realized that her child's mocking-while not very nice-was completely and utterly developmentally appropriate for her age group.
Charts, graphs, and development books are not fail safe, always true, or always helpful to a parent trying to set reasonable expectations for his child. Charts, graphs, and the like deal with averages, means, and norms. They don't track individuals. If you don't believe me, visit any sixth-grade classroom for 10 minutes. Check out the desks-some are filled with children so filled out you'd think twice about carding them if you were a bartender. Other desks hold scrawny kids who look as though they sleep each night with teddies clutched in their arms. Development and maturity in children is often uneven, too. Your son might be excelling in math, great in swimming, and still sucking his thumb at night. Your daughter might be terrific at art, brilliant at computer programming, but so absent-minded that when people ask her what her name is, she often replies, “Ummmmm?” You get the picture.