Attitude expectations

Have you ever received a compliment or word of encouragement that you really don’t feel like you deserve? I have.

“You are so good at…..”  Eeek!

Or “You really knows how to …..” Do I??!!

But I have noticed something very interesting about these kind of comments. They make me try to live up to their expectations. Think about it. If someone praises the way you solve problems peacefully, even if you honestly don’t think you are so good at it, you’ll more than likely make an extra effort to be peaceful next time a problem crops up. You see, you want to live up to that good expectation.

Having someone expect good things of you is nice. Sometimes a little daunting, but nice. Someone else’s confidence in your ability somehow bolsters your own confidence, and in turn this inspires you to try; you aim to do your best to deserve the praise already given. And I think this is a principle we need to apply to parenting.

Moment by moment we are shaping the attitudes our children will hold for years to come.

Moment by moment we are shaping the attitudes our children will hold for years to come.

I want to make clear that I am not talking about setting the kind of expectations which put negative pressure and stress onto a child. I don’t think we should say, “I expect you to win that race.” This can result in a fear-based effort. Not only that, but it is unfair – your child simply may not be the fastest runner in the race. We should not set expectations based on our children’s performance; we should set expectations about their attitude and character choices. Verbalizing your anticipation of your child’s best effort to win the race will spur them on with joy rather than fear.  And your praise at the end, no matter where they finish, will bring about positive results.

"We are raising the next generation"

“We are raising the next generation of this world”

Children are perceptive little people. They observe and absorb much more than we realise. And I’ve noticed that as adults we are almost constantly giving off impressions of the expectations we have of our children, perhaps unaware that they are soaking up and internalising these messages.

You can see it in all kinds of places. In the t-shirts we buy our toddlers: “I’m the boss”, “I’m a little monster”, “Mischief maker”. In the TV shows which model “normal” teenage behavior: arrogant, more concerned about appearance than character, self-absorbed. In the tone of voice and choice of words with which we communicate to them: “You’re so naughty! You never listen to me.” Or the way we talk to others about them, “He’s such a nightmare. He really knows how to wind me up.” All of these set negative expectations, and they tend to result in one of two scenarios: a child who lives up to these poor expectations and becomes the “nightmare” he is called; or a child who strives to please but deep down is broken and depressed.

We need to think more carefully. We are raising the next generation of this world. If we want them to be kind, compassionate, healthy, competent and respectful adults then we need to set those expectations now, while they are children. Why do we think we can call them “a little monster” yet expect them to behave well? We need to set them good standards which they delight in reaching, by highlighting the good they are capable of achieving. We need to find things to praise them for – not to build pride, but to remind them that everyone is valuable no matter what. I can tell you from first-hand experience: commenting on the good your child has done – no matter how small – inspires them to achieve more.

In the book of James chapter 3 we are told that the tongue has the power to set the course of a life – for good or for bad. Let us use that power to set our children on the course for greatness. In Titus 2:7 Paul says “In everything set them an example by doing what is good.Let us use every moment to model high standards. And when we talk to or about our children, let us keep every conversation “full of grace” (Col. 4:6), that they may be inspired to become the best version of themselves they can possibly be.

And above all, let our unconditional love flow through our words and actions.

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Listen – kids are people too

One of the blessings of having a good memory is remembering what it was like to be a kid. I had a great childhood, really – full of love, fun, and Little House on the Prairie with my bestie.

But I also remember some of the frustrations. Most clearly, I remember being frustrated when adults assumed they knew what I had done/was going to say/felt.  I can’t remember any specific instances, but I do remember the feeling of not being heard.  And as I grew up I was determined that my own children should not have this same frustration.

As a mom now, I find this is easier said than done. It is so easy to assume I know what’s going on in my children’s minds; to assume that I know the whole story behind a disagreement between siblings; to assume I know how it feels and the reason why my child is crying when I say ‘no’ to something. But the truth is, I don’t know everything. And so, I make an effort to listen to my children’s explanations and points of view, and I try hard to avoid making assumptions. I don’t do this perfectly, sadly. But I have a story which illustrates so clearly why I am glad I try, and how blessings abound when I succeed.

A couple of years ago Prince and Princess where playing in the lounge. Prince had left some of his toys unused on the table. After a while Princess, sitting on the floor in the middle of a game, needed an extra character, and seeing the unused toys on the table and asked,

“Prince – can I have your penguin?”

Prince look at her uneasily. I pricked up my ears to listen in, wondering if he would take this opportunity to be generous (something he had been struggling with a lot recently).

“Well…” he said, “That’s a very special toy to me. Couldn’t you have one of these instead?” Prince offered her two or three other toys.

I was disappointed. I felt angry, even. He just couldn’t seem to shake this selfishness – he wasn’t even using the toy! But instead of demanding he give her the toy and lecturing him on being kind (which is what I felt like doing), I stopped and thought about how to act. I then asked him a question.

“Prince – why don’t you want Princess to have the penguin? You’re not using it.” I said this simply, not accusationally. I genuinely wanted to know why he wasn’t giving her the penguin. What was stopping him?

Prince looked up at me, slightly teary-eyed. “Well – it’s very special to me. It’s one of my first big-eyed-toys! But…” He hesitated, as if needing my help, “does she want to have it forever?”

Prince and his penguin in their early days.

Prince and his ‘big-eyed’ penguin in their early days.

Suddenly it dawned on me. My prince – my precious, darling, oh-so-literal Prince – heard his sister ask to ‘have’ the toy, and assumed she meant ‘have to keep forever as her own’.

“No, darling,” I explained, “She just wants to use it for this game!”

Prince looked relieved. “Oh!  Okay!” He passed her the penguin immediately.

I was convicted of my anger. Here I was assuming Prince was being selfish, when in actual fact he was being extremely generous. Remember – he chose some of his other own toys to give his sister ‘forever’, as he understood it. I’m so grateful that I chose to ask him to explain his own perspective on the situation. It blessed me, as I saw his generous heart; and it blessed him, as he was not unfairly accused of selfishness.

I think back on this situation often, and use it to remember that kids are people too. They deserve the respect of being listened to and heard. Their understanding, opinions and explanations are not always what we think they will be.

Let’s stop assuming we know it all, and take time to really listen to our children.

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