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Manage Your Expectations, Not Your Child

parent expectationsOne of the (many) challenges of raising children who are wired differently is figuring out what are reasonable expectations, and what is too much. Even those of us who aren’t child development experts have a sense that three-year-olds should be able to eat without throwing food, at least most of the time; that four-year-olds should be able to pee in the toilet instead of in their pants; that five-year-olds should be able to play nicely with a friend; that six-year-olds should be able to get themselves dressed independently.

It’s hard not to worry when our kids don’t fit the norm. Are they being intentionally oppositional? Is their demand for help a sign that we’ve spoiled them? Are they more impaired than we realize?

Learning to read your child and knowing what you can reasonably expect of her is one of the hardest parts of parenting. When your kid doesn’t fit the norm for her age, it can be disheartening; a birthday party that ends in a meltdown, a tantrum at a nice dinner with friends. It’s impossible to anticipate all of the challenges, and it’s hard not to let that disappointment turn into resentment. I discuss some strategies for how to manage these scenarios in How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen.

What to do? People in my workshops were quick to share what doesn’t help:

Commands: “You need to get yourself dressed, now!”

Shaming: “You’re too old to be peeing in your pants.”

Denial of feelings: “Come on, this is fun. I don’t want to hear any more complaining.”

Lectures: “We can’t leave, honey. Your relatives came a long way so they can see you and visit with everybody. It’s going to be over in a couple of hours. You need to be polite to your cousins. They just want to play with you.”

Questions: “Why did you do that? Didn’t I tell you not to stuff bread in the heating grate?”

Threats: “I’m counting to three! One . . . two . . . two and a half . . .”

Kids might not be developmentally ready to meet our expectations. We may be better off skipping the loud, crowded party at the indoor playground and instead arranging a short playdate to celebrate a friend’s birthday. As cute as those new Mary Jane shoes are, we may decide to let our sensory girl wear her old, worn-out comfy shoes to Grandma’s dinner party.

Once people made the shift from trying to change the kids to changing their expectations, they found many ways to make life more pleasant for their children and themselves.

And now you’ll know how to build grit in your children.


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