An eight-year-old girl decides to surprise her mother by cleaning out the birdcage without being asked.
She puts the bird poop in a plastic bag, leaves it on the table, and goes out to play.
By the time her mom gets home from work, the dog got ahold of it and spread it all over the living room carpet.
Her mom gets terribly upset and yells at her.
The child starts crying:
“Mommy, I just wanted to surprise you! I just wanted to do something that would make you happy.”
This is exactly what happened with one of my clients, and it’s a perfect example of the unrealistic expectations we have of our children—and how damaging they can be.
Let me explain.
Does an eight-year-old think that if she puts the bag of poop on the table the dog might get to it and make a mess?
No. Kids are very much in the present moment. They simply don’t think through things. This little girl only thought of surprising her mother, and didn’t think about what would happen if she left the bag of poop on the table—not because she’s inconsiderate, but because she hasn’t reached the stage of development where she has learned to think about the future in order to consider everything that could go wrong!
Depending on their age, children simply aren’t developmentally ready to comply with certain expectations, even if they wanted to.
For instance, a toddler cannot be expected to sit down for a complete restaurant meal. They’re fidgety, and they need to explore—it’s in their nature. To expect otherwise is to expect to draw water out of a rock.
So, the problem is that we expect them to function against their very nature or beyond their developmental stage, and that (now here’s the really important piece) we don’t realize how setting unrealistic expectations can damage their self esteem.
When we have unrealistic expectations for our children—and we get upset with them when they don’t live up to these expectations—we are giving them the message that they should have known better and that they should have been able to think the way that children don’t think!
And so they will conclude that something must be very wrong with them, and they will stop taking chances. They may shrink from opportunities in the future, or live their lives feeling like they constantly have to live up to the expectations of others rather than being true to themselves.
They will, sadly, become a dimmed version of themselves.
If we keep giving children the message “you don’t live up to my expectations,” children will ask themselves one question with a devastating conclusion:
Why didn’t I think like that?
Why didn’t I do what she wanted?
Why did I mess up?
And the only answers they’ll come up with are:
I guess I am not capable.
I am not okay.
I am not smart.
This is why so many millions of people have the belief “I am not good enough” or “I am stupid” or “I am not capable.”
This belief leads to things like fear of public speaking. If you’re constantly trying to live up to other people’s expectations, and feel that other people are smarter than you are, why on Earth would you put yourself in front of an entire audience ready to bring up all your feelings of shame? You’ll never please them all!
And so you think to yourself, “Why should I bother when I’ll never get it right anyway?”
Could you imagine if, as a child, you were allowed to be who you were, and not who your parents wanted you to be?
If a child doesn’t feel like they have to live up to your expectations, can you see how they can be self-motivated and want to live up to their own expectations?
It is fine to want children to do things and teach them how to do them, but be careful about your expectations. It is our job as a parent to teach and guide our children, but we must do so in a way that honors their authentic selves and allows them to grow up into self-motivated adults.
That’s why so much of my audio program, Parenting That Empowers, is about showing you how to empower your children, so you can raise them—even through the challenging times—without damaging their sense of self.
Throughout the program, I’ll teach you how to use everyday parenting moments—from chores to homework to bedtime routines—to instill self-esteem in your children and the certainty that they are totally loved.
See, children do not feel loved when they disappoint you. With my program, you’ll learn how to show unconditional love to your child but also teach them and guide them in a way that doesn’t inadvertently make them feel unloved.
I’ll also show you how to get your child to cooperate. (Because believe me, I know you need order so the household doesn’t fall into chaos!)
Most importantly, you’ll learn how to instill in your children the positive beliefs that lead them to build self-esteem and allow them to grow into happy, confident, capable adults. You have a tremendous opportunity now as a parent to do everything you can so that your child believes he can be, do, and have everything he wants!Teaching Them To Think For Themselves
When you raise your kid to live up to his own expectations, you’ll find yourself with an adult who can stand up, speak out, and be exactly who they want to be—no matter what anybody else thinks.
P.S. Do you know the single most painful belief a child can grow up with?
“I’m not worth loving.”
When I’ve worked with adults who discover this belief within themselves, they will start crying. It’s a devastating legacy to give your kids, and it can happen without you even realizing it:How Poor Self-Esteem Develops