Surviving in a House of Chaos: Managing Expectations

Tonya Ratliff, MA, LPC, NCC, ACSby Tonya Ratliff, LPC, NCC, ACS

As I wrap up this series of articles on effective parenting, I would like to focus on the concept of managing expectations: your child’s and your own. An expectation is defined as a sense of knowing about something that is going to happen. Managing your child’s expectations will go a long way toward avoiding those meltdowns that result from your child simply not knowing what to expect.

In my counseling practice, time constraints are the #1 reason that parents offer for not doing a better job on this task of effective parenting. Managing expectations requires taking the time to explain and discuss repeatedly with your child what he can expect before an event or activity, and the consequence he can expect if he is unable to comply with the behavior that is required.

For example, if you are taking a child to a wedding, don’t just tell them about the party and the dancing. Clearly explain that there is a church service first, at which they will need to sit quietly for a period of time; there will be a meal at which they will also be required to sit for a period of time and use good manners. Identify what type of behavior you expect throughout the event, and also what you will do if your child is unable to comply.

Providing this type of information allows the child to feel some sense of power or control over his situation, instead of pleading, “I didn’t know!” And yes, this might mean that you need to leave the event early to follow through with your responsibility as a parent. Once again, effective parenting requires diligence, perseverance and routinely placing the needs of your child before your own.

This type of dialogue with your child takes a lot of patience, and is often overlooked in today’s busy households. It is—quite simply—easier not to take the time to do this! However, taking the time to prepare your child for events and activities and what your expectations are for their behavior directly supports those important bonds of trust and security. AND, if something unexpected does happen, your child knows that you are surprised too—NOT that you were deceiving them.

Example: Our middle school daughter had a HUGE school project due on a Monday after an equally HUGE sleepover party that had been planned for weeks. We clearly told her that if the project wasn’t totally completed before the party—she would not be attending. Well, you guessed it—the project wasn’t completed. She begged and pleaded to still go to the party—even “volunteering” to be grounded the next weekend! But we held fast to our consequence and she missed the party. We felt awful. She had looked forward to the party for weeks and was teased by her friends for missing it….. But I can also share—that type of incident never happened with her again.

With teens, managing expectations is critically important. Let your teen know exactly what you expect about curfew, where they are, when you expect to hear from them, etc., and exactly what will happen if they break the rules. Remember: spending time with friends, sleepovers, parties, shopping, having spending money, driving a car, the use of a cell phone, a tablet, a computer and internet access, are all privileges—not rights. And privileges can be taken away—and should be taken away—when a teen has not demonstrated the appropriate respect for your authority as their parent.

A very simple example of this trifecta of skills in action follows:

Parent: “Ok, I know you want to play this video game, and I want you to have some fun and relaxation after being in school all day. So, you may play the game for one hour, and then you’ll need to do your reading for one hour. If you don’t do your reading today, then there will be no video gaming tomorrow.”

In this example the parent has demonstrated the three pillars of effective parenting:

1) Provided structure (how long the child may do both activities)
2) Conveyed consistency (if this works today, you may play tomorrow)
3) Managed expectations:

  • The parent’s – by stating the expectation that the child will do his reading
  • The child’s – by stating the appropriate consequence for non-compliance

The often overwhelming challenge of parenting in today’s society is not for the faint of heart. The ability to implement structure, maintain consistency and manage your child’s, as well as your own, expectations requires the greatest commitment to another human being that we face in our lifetime. It’s a job worth doing well, as we consider the enormity of the task bestowed upon us when we are blessed with the gift of a child in our lives.

Trinity Family Counseling Center
45445 Mound Rd, Suite 111 Shelby TwpMI48317 USA 
 • 586-254-3663

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