Saturday, January 18, 2014

Expect the Best!

(This article appears in the Daily Review Atlas as a part of my Practical Parenting series.)

No one knows my kids as well as I do. I know what they look like, smell like and sound like. I know their sleeping and eating patterns. I know the funk that is their breath in the morning and I can tell which of my five children are coming down the stairs by the rhythmic pitter-patter of their feet.

I also know what sock styles they prefer, whether they'll wear blue jeans or sweat pants if given an option, and that vanilla is the flavor of choice when it comes to ice cream.

Doesn’t that make parenting sound grand? If it were only that sweet.

That same intimate knowledge also means I can tell when they are lying by omission, sneaking around and what triggers a temper tantrum. I know they hide food wrappers under their bed and will fake washing their hands while letting the faucet run. They fib about homework and smile angelically when I ask them to turn off their bed light but switch it back on when they think I've gone to bed.

This knowing of my kids gives me a great power. Power than I can use for good or bad. When wielded properly I can harness this information to make my job easier. Alternatively, I can also take what I know about my kids, particularly their weaknesses, and limit their possibilities. 

You see kids are hard wired with a desire to please their parents. When we know our kids and really see their potential it's easy to provide them with the affirmation they desire. Conversely, that same intimate knowledge can tempt us to parent in anticipation of their deficiencies.

For example, if we know our child is prone to selfishness and if we take them to a play date we might instruct, "You'd better play nice or you won't be invited back!!” The comment is an attempt to give direction on how we want our child to behave but listen closely and you may hear that “Play nice!” actually infers suspicion. It communicates that mom is expecting a problem.

Johanne Goethe, a famous German writer once said, "Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be, and he becomes as he can and should be." In other words, if we expect our kids to be a problem then they will be. However, if we want our children to be leaders, problem solvers and good friends than we must engage them as such. Over time parents will find their children unconsciously taking on that mantle and rising to the expectations provided. 

Take that same play date scenario, simply rearranging the instructions, while putting a more positive emphasis in your tone, raises the standard of behavior you expect; "Have fun and remember to share". You just might be surprised how well your children respond to your requests using this method while discovering that encouraged children are happier, and consequently, more compliant. Isn't that what we all want?

I’m not saying there is not a time for instructing - certainly there is. Our children need constant teaching, role modeling and consequences. I’m simply suggesting that despite knowing our kids as well as we do we need to be careful that we are not so quick to always expect the negative.

What if I told my son who's struggling with spelling, “You’ll be lucky to ever get an A!” What faith does that communicate to my kid? Where’s the encouragement? Instead I've found that if my words are chosen to convey more of what I want them to do, rather than what I don't want them to do, everyone is happier.

“I know you’re going to have a good day today." "Bring your homework home and we’ll go over it together!" "You can remember to turn out your light at nine o’clock, right?”
These statements, while very clearly implying your expectations, offer a sense of hope in your child rather than the impatience you feel when using phrases like, "Don't be a brat!" or "You're always so ornery". 

Listen I know raising kids is hard, intense work. Kids are naughty. They often push us to the limits of our sanity and it is easy to use our words to put them in their place. But what if instead of shaming our kids or discouraging them, we use our words to build them up? We could use language to express the hope we feel for them and their future! I believe that expecting the best from our kids, rather than the worst, is a far more effective parenting technique with positive long-term results.
Why? Because I’m the mom and I said so. That’s why!

Stephanie is a parent educator with the Monmouth-Roseville school district. She writes weekly for her local paper and  teaches parenting classes, conducts playgroups and provides home visits to area families. She can be reached at


  1. This is beautiful, the challenge comes in, in America today, when we have so many divorces and step-kids; there will always need to be a bit extra perseverance when one is raising, lovingly, another mother's child. Knowing, that oppression and impoverishment of the soul is what demands nourishment. Children are here to fulfill their own purpose, and if they are in your care, be CARE FULL with their heart and soul. Love, teach only Love.

    The most important factors are your Presence in Integrity and Honesty; fairness with all, yet in accordance with each child as an individual, with unique characteristics and desires. The child, every human child, needs to be offered the value of their own Dignity; self-worth; self-empowerment; and self-direction. Children want to grow up and be responsible in our great world. Allow them the fullness of this very opportunity.

  2. Thank you Polly for visiting the blog today and for taking the time to comment. I couldn't agree more! Kids need very careful care. Sadly, the tediousness & labor or parenting make it too easy to quip and jump to conclusions. I believe children respond well to encouragement. I couldn't raise my kids without it!


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