Recently, my daughter just sat for her school’s Science assessment paper and she scored 15 out of 20. She handed me her paper and then asked me this question with a tinge of innocence, “Is this considered good?” I was taken aback. Why did she ask me this question? Have I been too hard on her? Why did I give her the impression that result is very important to me? I thought hard of how to reply her. Finally, I replied her this, “I think you have tried your best so I guess it is not bad for your level.” Though I am not so sure if I have given the right answer, her question became a reflection upon myself.
What is your expectation of your child? What is considered good result? If your child were to score 15 out of 20, would you praise or chide?
It is a known fact that today’s parents may have become more result-orientated over the years and learning has somehow evolved into a rat race. Most parents want the best for their children. Note that it is a parents’ WANT.
Based on the research review written by Yoko Yamamoto and Susan D. Holloway on parental expectations and children’s academic performance, it was indicated that parental expectations can be contrasted with parental aspirations, which typically refer to desires, wishes or goals that parents have formed regarding their children’s future attainment rather than what they realistically expect their children to achieve (Seginer 1983).
When parents possess such strong desire in the pursuit of academic excellence, they may set unrealistic expectations of their children unknowingly. Some may push their children to achieve good grades, while others may overreact when their children makes mistakes and falls short of expectations.
I have personally come across children who were still upset despite scoring 98 out of 100. One of their reasons was that they had made careless mistakes and could have scored full marks. Others were worried of being scolded by their parents. One of the heartbreaking comments that I have heard from some children was that nothing they ever did was good enough for their parents.
If such mentality were to continue in the long run, it may affect the children’s self-views. They may become overly concerned of one’s mistakes and whether one’s performance is matching up to high standards imposed by others (such as parents and teachers). Concern of making errors and falling short of expectations is known as maladaptive perfectionism. Research has shown that individuals who are high on maladaptive perfectionism are often anxious, depressed, and suffer from burnout over the long term. We believed that this is the last thing that any parent would want to deal with.
Now the question is how can we set realistic and reasonable expectation for our children?
First, let’s ask ourselves these questions:
- Why do I have this expectation?
- Where did it come from?
- Is it based on my wishes or my child’s needs?
- Does it realistically fit my child at this age, with his/her temperament and background?
- What purpose does it serve?
Besides the questions, we need to keep these few pointers in mind.
- Your child is an individual.Look at the child’s strengths and weakness, interests and talents. Set our expectations based on the individual. Charts, statistics, and data are just guidelines to tell you what the average child of a given age should be able to do, but do remember that every child develops at different pace.
- Every child is unique. Our children are not mould and their unique abilities should be considered when we are setting standards for them. We can consider developmental norms along the way, however we need to remember that our child is one unique being. I personally have 3 children and all of them are totally different, be it their taste buds or interest. Remember that same parenting style does not equate to having same set of children.
- Don’t set your expectations based on yourself.
We as parents have this tendency of wanting our children to shine and the best for them. For instance, parents who did not perform well enough during their school years may unknowingly set unrealistic expectations for their children in order for them not to follow their footsteps. There are also some parents who are pressurized by the environment, for example, “Oh, everyone is doing it so I need to follow as well,” and therefore fall into the rat race unknowingly. I was one of the guilty ones. Previously, I would send my daughter to classes not because of what she liked but more of everyone was doing it so I just followed. Over the years, I realised that it was hurting our relationship and I stopped those classes. I have to keep reminding myself that our children are neither moulds nor our shadows.
- Be clear, consistent and flexible.Give clear expectations for the long-term and set milestones along the way. For example, going to university is a long-term expectation, however, we need to remember to break the long-term goal into short-term goals along the way. One of the short-term goals can be strive to maintain good grades (based on his/her capability) and complete homework assignments regularly. Do remember that the goals being set must be something that the children agree to and are achievable by them. Besides setting goals and expectations, do celebrate the short-term achievements and allow our children to enjoy the success. In this way, they will learn that they are able to reach the expectations that have been set for them. Review the short-term goals on a regular basis and adjust as accordingly if need be.
- Place less emphasis on achieving perfection.While it is important to set high expectations for our children, be sure to let them know that falling a little short of them does not mean they are failures. We can easily fall into a pattern of perfection if we do not learn to appreciate and applaud the journey to make progress. Compliment our children for the effort and the accomplishments reached along the way.
With these questions and pointers in mind, they may guide us in setting realistic expectations of our children. However, communication is still the key thing. We as parents need to 1explain expectations clearly, and 2encourage our children to reach for them along the way. Our children get to learn that they can do more than they may think, hard work pays off, and they are loved no matter what they do. Realistic expectations are all about genuinely seeing our children grow and helping them grow in their own special way.
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