• P.E.T. South Africa

Are our expectations setting our children up for failure?

By Heidi Malan, Director of Parent & Educational Training

Parenting can be uncertain in many ways. As parents, we often feel anxious about things like our parenting styles, our children's emotional state, and the future, all mostly stuff we can't control.


Many anxieties result from futuristic thinking, meaning instead of being in the present moment with your child, you are locked in thoughts and worries about their future. It takes us out of the moment when our children need us to be present and leads to (what I like to call) unreal expectations of ourselves, others, and our children. The ugly part is when these expectations aren't met; we feel like failures, we get weighed down, and even worse, it makes our children feel like they are failing us.


So, how can we manage our expectations? Here are a couple of thoughts:


  1. Become aware of the expectations that you may have. Feeling frustrated or disappointed are typically those feelings that result from unmet expectations. Try to be more conscious about what is happening to your senses.

  2. Become aware of the behaviour. Behaviours that we label unacceptable make us feel uncomfortable; ask yourself if you are now reacting or responding to the unacceptable behaviour because of unrealistic expectations you've set for yourself?

  3. Be aware when labelling your child. Often the labels we use are generated by our expectations. When you're labelling your child as naughty, it is usually due to an expectation you have for your child that's not being met. Always try to be aware of the expectation before disciplining your child -- might their expectation for themselves be different from yours?

  4. Always only address unacceptable behaviour when you are calm, re-focused, and conscious of all the possible expectations in the room.

  5. Change the expectation, and try to find a different way of looking at the world around you. The only thing you can control is what is happening at this moment.

  6. Try and control your thoughts. We cannot control the what-ifs of life, but we can control the thoughts we allow to remain in our heads at that moment.


Holding onto unrealistic expectations removes us from the present-day moments we get to share with our children when they are young (we won't have them forever). Instead, it leads to anxious thoughts and parenting decisions made out of fear for the future, which is ineffective in the here and now, when our children require our presence more than ever.

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