Creating Clear Expectations for Our Children

creating clear expectations

“Last night Dustin asked me what rules we had at home. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t have a ready answer. Dustin told me, ‘At school we have these rules, Mommy. Choose your work. Don’t touch anybody’s work. Work at a rug or table. And put your work away when you’re finished.’ See, even I can remember them. I’d like to be that clear-cut about behavior at home,” Anne said.

Anne, parent of a three-year-old in my classroom, saw the benefits of having clear structure and expectations. Many of us experience difficulty in explaining the boundaries to children, and tend to do so only after becoming angry or upset when a child oversteps an undefined boundary.

We can see certain behavior as obvious and never think to set the limits, just as in “Don’t stick beans in your ears.”

One of my professors said, “Remember that children are new beings on this planet. Explain and be as patient with them as you would with E.T.”

Dealing with children (and other people) may feel as frustrating at times as working with creatures from another planet.

Much of our annoyance revolves around stating the obvious over and over again. Repetition is how children learn, so it’s not annoying or frustrating to them, and in fact, is necessary.

Creating clear expectations for behavior can come out of our completing three phrases:

1. This is how I feel.

2. This is what I want.

3. These are the rules.

Making these three lists will lead you to establish boundaries, maintain discipline, teach self-control, instill respect for others, model moral values, and also promote independence and accountability in the child. Did I forget anything?

Anne spent some time over the next week completing these lists. She kept them on the refrigerator and added to them when something came to mind. At the end of the week, her lists looked something like this:

This is how I feel
Grumpy when the house is messy
Angry when Dustin is disrespectful
Tired when I don’t have time for myself
Happy when we do things as a family
Frustrated when we run late for school, etc.
Stressed when I worry about money

This is what I want 
A happy home
To be kind and loving
To have time to be a mom
To have time to be a wife
To have time to be myself
To raise Dustin to be kind, loving and respectful of others

These are the rules
Be kind. No mean words.
Be ready to go.
Have fun every day.
Stick to our budget.
Put your things away when you’re finished.
(Anne liked this school rule.)

Anne shared her list with her husband, Fred, and got his opinion on the clear expectations she was trying to create for Dustin and their family. Fred was concerned that the list was perhaps simplistic, but he was willing to try using these rules to help Dustin see what was important.

Anne discovered that making statements from her list out loud, such as, “I like doing things as a family,” or, “I feel grumpy because dinner’s late,” helped make expected behavior clear. One morning Dustin told his dad, “Try to be home on time for dinner. Mommy gets grumpy when dinner is late.”

As Anne told me, “Those three phrases have helped me communicate my expectations for our family. The more I use them, the easier it becomes for all of us to communicate how we want our family life to work.”

Helping children learn to listen

2 Responses to “Creating Clear Expectations for Our Children”

  1. Rosella Parrish

    I enjoyed this article of clarity. I feel that it will be quite useful in creating a bond of respect within our home for myself as well as the children I am trying to raise. I am dealing with teenagers, and feel that it will help with communication issues as well. Thank you.

    • Rosella,

      It is interesting in working with teens that they need a lot of what a three-year-old needs.

      And I always advocate the KISS method. Keep it simple, sister!


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