Helping Our Kids Manage Expectations

By: AJ Hofstetter

From schoolwork to family relationships, sports, activities, jobs, the future, and their faith, how can we help our students manage the expectations on them? As we continue our conversation about teaching, parenting, and what it means to connect students with the God who has giant plans for them, it’s probably good to talk about expectations. 

Expectations are often closely tied to identity and how well our students manage them has a significant impact on how they view themselves and the God who made them. So how can we help them sort through the expectations in front of them? 

That really depends on the expectations we’re talking about. 

The Right Expectations

Some of the expectations that we have for our kids are legitimate. When we were kids, our parents expected us to respect boundaries and not torture our siblings or catch the wrong things on fire. Those of us who learned these boundaries and chose to meet them stayed out of more trouble than those of us who resisted. For our kids, it’s right for us to expect certain things from them. As they try to manage these right and good expectations, they’ll need our help and coaching. They’ll need encouragement when they do things right and encouragement when they do them wrong.

For school, it’s right to expect students to give it their all, to be assertive, and to show respect to their classmates and their teachers. It’s not right for us to expect them to never make mistakes on assignments or on tests. It’s good to expect them to work diligently and respond to instruction. The right expectations are discovered through training and coaching, through support from parents and teachers, and through a wisdom that comes from loving God. 

The Wrong Expectations

I lived a significant part of my life with a fear of disappointing people. When I was young, it meant that I did whatever I needed to do to keep people, especially my parents, happy. As I look back, I’m not sure that these expectations necessarily came from them; but I felt them nonetheless. Good grades. Christianity. Respect. My efforts in these weren’t driven by my desire for them so much as by my fear of disappointing the people who valued them. I was trying to please people and felt it was an expectation I had to meet. 

As I aged, this evolved into doing whatever I needed to do to please whoever I was with. I befriended the wrong people because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I made bad decisions because I felt like the situation I was in demanded it. I lived my life meeting the wrong expectations for the wrong people and the wrong reasons. Looking back, I realize I never truly had an understanding of the expectations that were right and the ones that were wrong. I just tried to meet all the expectations I felt…and meet them all at the same level with the same importance.

Helping our kids identify the wrong expectations in their lives is the beginning of helping them build healthy boundaries for the rest of their lives. 

The Impossible Expectations

Perhaps this is simply another way to talk about perfectionism. The problem with perfectionism is that it’s Pass/Fail. Either you’ve met the expectation or you haven’t. Either you’ve performed or you’ve been a disappointment. Perfectionism is an impossible expectation placed on us, by ourselves or others, that isn’t based on a healthy or sustainable lifestyle. 

Perfect performance. Perfect attitude. A perfect relationship. Perfect faith. Perfect life. 

Ultimately, these impossible expectations aren’t met, and the true brokenness just below the surface is exposed. Exactly when that happens depends on the person and the situation, but the inevitable let down always happens. 

___________________________________________

The right expectations are where our children will learn the boundaries that are essential for life. Our children should respect us and speak kindly. They should put genuine effort into everything they do and learn to think of others before themselves. They should learn to be faithful, humble, and quiet in even the most menial tasks of life. These are right and good and prepare them for good things to come.

Trying to meet the wrong expectations can lead our kids into dysfunctional, unhealthy lifestyles. For instance, codependent relationships are hard to identify for those who are in them but they are also detrimental to the person living in fear of disappointing someone. The more our kids learn to identify expectations that are toxic to their health, their faith, and their future, the more they’ll be equipped with wisdom for the rest of their lives. 

And the impossible expectations that our kids try to meet lead them to fear that they’ll never measure up. They lead our kids to believe that if they’re going to be acceptable, they have to perform, be perfect, and be good enough. Impossible expectations keep them chasing after impossible standards. 

Teaching our children about the expectations in front of them is about more than teaching them to perform or be afraid of failure. It’s about helping them discover which expectations are right, which are wrong, and which are outright impossible. And in that, we’re helping them connect with a God who has giant plans for them.