Parental expectations help nurture your child's sense of self-esteem and encourage healthy development. When expectations are set unrealistically high -- or, on the other hand, ridiculously low -- children's personalities and sense of self-worth are negatively affected. Understanding the outcome and finding a balance is key to promoting healthy development in children.
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In her book "Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only," psychologist Susan Newman discusses the thought process and dangers that come from placing unrealistic expectations on your child. Newman points out that many parents have dreams and hopes for their child before he is even born -- not a bad thing in and of itself -- but these dreams can turn into expectations that are too high and unattainable and lead to an overemphasis on perfection. The child may feel powerless or like a failure if he is unable to live up to these expectations, or he may give up easily and not even attempt to excel.
The child of parents who have low or no expectations of her lacks a sense of purpose and direction in her life. The American Academy of Pedatrics warns that a child needs goals to encourage purpose and achievement in order to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. A child upon whom there are few expectations may be unmotivated to accomplish anything and may seek out a peer or another adult -- who may not always have her best interests in mind -- to give her life a sense of purpose.
The AAP says that setting realistic expectations for the child -- ones that aren't too low or too high -- help him develop competence and a healthy sense of self-worth. Healthy expectations encourage and allow a child to do well without putting pressure on him. He develops security and trust in the relationship with his parents and gains a sense of independence and responsibility. Realistic expectations also include the acceptance of mistakes along the way, helping a child to understand setbacks as a normal part of life.
Finding the Balance
William Sears, a pediatrician and parent educator in California, says that parents need to find where their child's strengths lie and create an environment that encourages and nurtures her gifts. Having expectations in an area where your child is skilled sets her up for success and allows your expectations to be realistic. Parents should also remember that even if the child is the valedictorian or the star basketball player, it won't guarantee her success for the rest of her life. Life lessons -- such as responsibility and work ethic -- will often determine your child's success much more than her report card, so expectations placed on a child should include a balance of talents and life skills.