Setting Expectations

Have you ever wondered if you were being too tough or too easy on your child?  It’s a very common problem with parents.  How do you push without being pushy?  How do you know when to take charge and when to back off?  These are not easy answers but after reading this article; you should feel more confident in what you are doing while understanding when to make adjustments.

The first thing I have done while working with any child is to get an idea of where they are with what I want to teach.  This works for behaviors, athletics, and academics.  Once I have a finger on the pulse; I make mini goals/expectations just to see if I am correct with my assessments. For example, I am a coach for my 4 year olds basketball team.  Before the season began though, I wanted my child to have a grasp of what a practice will be like.  Therefore, we would go outside and practice dribbling and shooting.  At this time, we have advanced a step because he has accomplished the first two steps. Therefore, I am now encouraging him to move with the ball then shoot.

Allow me to change gears and apply these same standards to academics.  I have an 8 year old who has a great academic mind.  If I were to compare where he is next to the set standards of the school for his grade level, he would be so far ahead, there would not be a need for me to work with him for the next year and a half.  But, I don’t let others dictate where my child should be exclusively.  Instead, I keep my finger on the pulse and continue to build where his mind will let me.  You should draw a correlation between my 4 year old with basketball and 8 year old with academics. In both cases, I assessed where they were and built them from there.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of taking my approach is that I don’t get flustered when things aren’t going well.  For example, a general concern started to build with my second child because he was a late walker at 17 months.  (Technically, the standard for walking is 18 months but many families have children who walk earlier).  With encouragement and time, he accomplished the skill.

While I was an elementary school teacher, life was especially hard for some children and teachers because of the pressure that was placed upon them to accomplish certain skills at designated times.  The truth is children have strengths and weaknesses.  They aren’t computers who run properly once the latest/greatest program is inserted.  They don’t learn to read, understand math concepts, or mature at the same time.

I took a different approach with children in my classroom.  I assessed where they were in given subjects, did my best to teach the standards but really focused on building individuals.  It was a lot of extra work on my part but well worth it.

My only caution for parents in setting expectations is to watch comparing your child to others.  Some children take longer in developing a skill and that’s fine. Others are already ahead in certain skill sets.  Instead of comparing your child to others and resting on your laurels; encourage the child to continue shooting for the stars.

More about setting goals and meeting expectations can be found in my book Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures.  Feel free to leave your email address and never miss a post.  I also am actively involved in Facebook and Twitter as well.  I’ll have another post ready for you next Friday.  Until then, have a great time raising your child!



  1. marisad21 says:

    Great post and great advice. I have three boys and sometimes I have a tendency to compare them to each other. I have learned that they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Plus my younger boys learn things much fast because they are constantly watching their big brother. I have learned that I have to different expectations for each child. Sometimes I am afaid that I am pushing them too hard as my kids are under 8. But I have noticed so many teenagers that don't want to work hard and let their parents do everything for them. It is very important for me to teach my children to set goals, work hard, and become independent.

  2. jealy says:

    Hello and thanks for the post. One challenge with expectations and pushing my child is that she qualified for the advanced math so she enrolled, but it has been a struggle ever since. The only way to get off the moving train of math classes would be to re-take a year of math, even though she's earning a B in Algebra II and would not qualify for a re-take. You may say that there is nothing wrong with a B, but the problem is that every step is frustrating, and cumulatively, she has many gaps in her understanding of math. It also makes her hate math and think she's bad at it when in fact much of the problem is likely developmental. This is probably something I should have fixed in middle school. I suppose at this point I'm just venting, but it does become increasingly hard to balance pushing one's kids to give them the experience of needing to work hard for academic success and giving them what they can handle and still feel good about their abilities….. Thanks!

    • Dave says:

      I have a similar situation with one of my children and I'm wondering if I should allow him to enter the advanced math class while he's still struggling with dyslexia. I don't want him to become discouraged in the one subject he enjoys and excels in. I would love to know what Mr. Thomas thinks….

      • claytonthomas says:

        Dave- This is a terrific question. Let me qualify this by saying I have only worked with mild forms of dyslexia as a former elementary school teacher. But, here are some things I would consider before making the jump to a new class with any child. #1. Is it possible you can go to the advanced math class teacher and request some material? From there, see how your child responds to the new challenge. His reaction alone may help you in the decision making process. #2 You could also ask to see the new text book along with any workbooks the teacher uses. #3 I would have a conference with his current teacher. How does your child perform in class in terms of participation? Is your child's current class completely boring or is your child still learning solid material? Does that teacher feel your child is ready to take on the new challenge?

        My final thought on this is that a mid year jump to a new class isn't always easy. The transition alone affects some children for a period of time. Advanced classes are paced faster than standard ones. Take your time before making the jump. Remember as well that you could make the jump at the beginning of the next school year while giving your child extra math challenges at home. It's a tough decision but I hope I have given you some solid points to consider. Best wishes!

    • claytonthomas says:

      Jealy- You are correct when you thought I would say that there is nothing wrong with a "B." Colleges look at not only the grades but the difficulty of the courses taken. In saying this, I can understand why you are frustrated. I believe that when a child struggles and succeeds; more is gained. Now that your child has attained her "B" average, find the "gaps" you mentioned. If needed, you could also ask for a conference with the teacher to find the gaps. Once these gaps are identified, it's entirely possible to shoot for an "A." I will leave you with this story. The class I remember most from high school was an English class my junior year. The teacher was fairly hard on us. (He was also a football coach). Towards the end of the year, we had to give a speech. My grades throughout the year were average at best. Because Mr. Johnson had high expectations on all of us, I really worked hard for this final speech. Mr. Johnson taught 4 classes with about 30 students in each class. Out of 120 students, he gave out two "A's" on the final speech. Guess which future parenting author received one of those "A's?" My point is that the struggle makes us stronger. When authority figures set expectations, it gives children something to shoot towards. Continue to have your child work hard in her math class, be as prepared as possible for tests and quizzes, and have the attitude of success. If you take this advice to heart, I'll bet that your child will find a way to surprise you before the school year ends. All my best to you and your family!