Expectations can either elevate or deflate us, depending on how it comes into play.
By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | November 19, 2014
In my Parents Anonymous Group, the topic of expectations came up for discussion after a parent called their child a “pig” and a “slob.” The facilitator said we should set expectations with our children. If we called them negative names like ‘pig’ and ‘slob’ then it would become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Even though I was not the parent, that very day I began calling Chelsey and Katie ‘ladies’ without knowing whether it would influence them or not. The first few times saying ‘ladies’ I was met with strange looks from both girls but it soon became the norm. The odd thing is that I also felt better using ‘lady’ or ‘ladies’ rather than ‘hey you’ or ‘hey kids.’
Was speaking about the girls as ‘ladies’ effective? I must admit that I never felt like a lady myself but looking at my daughters Chelsey and Katie – they are ladies today. As adults they wear makeup, dress nicely and behave well when they go out in public so I would say my expectations were met.
Children hear you when you speak with others about them; using positive labels can have a lasting effect. Chelsey and Katie were my Van Goh and Stephen King, or at the very least, artist, chef, writer and editor. In this case, kids set the expectation and parents support that dream in whatever way they can:
When Katie came into her ‘artist’ stage and was using our basement as her studio, I made a sign for the upstairs door: Do Not Disturb – Artist At Work!
Because of Chelsey’s resilience and tenacity I dubbed her ‘my hero,’ a term used even today
Labeling any child (or adult) with a negative name chips away at their and the parent’s self-esteem and can have a profound negative effect. Call a child a slob and they will lose interest in trying to clean their room and give up; expectations, unfortunately, will be met.
Gender issues often come up when discussing expectations. When parents have children of both genders, it is important they think about what they say to their children:
Parent to son: “Great muscles! I bet you’ll make a great athlete someday.”
Parent to daughter: “Look at you… you are so pretty!”
Expectations for boys are often laid out from birth but girls’ expectations can be lacking and it is not only by parents, friends and relatives join in. That is not all… Toy manufacturers plaster boy images on trucks, chemistry sets and sports equipment while girl images don doll and play-house items they assume appropriate. Don’t look now but parents may be sharing the same deodorants and razors packaged with feminine or masculine colors.
Parents can also place invisible limits on their children by things they say:
“You don’t want to be a rodeo rider – that is so dangerous!”
“You don’t want to be a cook – they don’t make much money.”
Parents need not examine every word spoken to their child; parenting is not that difficult or complicated. Parents spend the most time with their children so developing expectations to fit their values is important. That ‘cute’ little girl can decide how she looks accepting her Ph.D. in science or math.
What should parents expect?
Expect great things… Impress upon children the value of education, of kindness, cooperation and mutual respect in the family. Take children to libraries on a regular basis and ask children questions about their interests. Provide children equally with information and experiences to enhance what they already know. If a child is interested in archaeology then envision them, of either sex, discovering a new prehistoric creature and support their dreams to get there.
Parents may be unknowingly placing limits on children by expressing doubt. That doubt can punch a great big hole in greatness. When doubt creeps in you can show it the door by saying ‘what if’ and allowing kids to work out the details.
Now, in another semi-related form, expectations can be disappointing but is 100% avoidable if parents keep it real.
Parents may say, “We are going to have such great fun visiting Grandma and Grandpa!” But what happens is the children have nothing to do because they live in a retirement community and there are no activities or children their ages in the area – complaining comes next. Realistic expectations could have prepared the children for the visit.
Parents could say, “We are visiting Grandma and Grandpa because we love them; you may be bored so take a book and games to fill those not-so-fun times.” The expectation is that the visit will happen no matter what and that by preparing, children can still have fun.
The holidays come in with a blast the day after Halloween and media pumps up the wants lists and expectations to incredible proportions. To keep children’s expectations in check, parents can explain their plans for the holidays, how much they will spend or even not celebrating at all. Some families now volunteer together during the holidays to teach children gratitude for what they do have.
After the December holidays, many talk of the let-down feeling that comes when expectations are not met with reality and it is not only the children complaining. Parents are responsible for setting expectations that match reality to even out moods, frustration and disappointment.
Tip: Do not label your child with a name you would not like for yourself.
How do you help children set expectations? Share your expertise with others.
Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.
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