Self-fulfilling prophecies: Expect the worst
of your kids and the worst is what you’ll likely get
I heard it again just the other day: a parent bemoaning the inevitable behavior of a child going through a “phase.” She complained that she couldn’t get her son to drink the amount of milk recommended by his doctor. And then, she said it: “Teenagers – they never listen!”
How many times have you heard (or said) something similar? Although we all know not to “label” children (the smart one, the pretty one, the difficult one), we very easily fall into another trap – harboring (and even expressing) low expectations:
“She’s about to hit the ‘terrible twos.’’’
“Boys will be boys.”
“Kids these days…”
These statements all excuse unfavorable behavior with generalizations and predictions. And they become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you think all two-year olds go through a “terrible” phase, yours will. If you believe siblings can’t get along, yours won’t. If you’re sure that all teens hate their parents, yours will.
It is not inevitable that children whine and throw tantrums throughout their young years. And they don’t have to grow up to be sullen, rude teens either. It’s all about expectations, truly. You can raise children without tolerating behaviors you find unacceptable. The tricks is to start very early and be absolutely consistent about how you deal with those behaviors.
- Never (never!) reward undersirable behavior, especially whining. In the moment, giving in to a demanding, whining child or ignoring an inappropriate remark may be easier than doing the right thing. But consider the future, not just the moment.
- Always be sure a consequence (not punishment) follows unacceptable behavior
- Be very clear about expecations. That means be specific. Telling children that you expect them to “behave” doesn’t really tell them anything. You must tell them how you expect them to behave.
- Model everything you expect from your child. For example, if you speak disrespectfully to your spouse or parents (even just once in a while), you can be sure that your child will speak disrespectfully to you.
Children won’t continue a behavior that doesn’t “work” for them. And children really do want to know what the boundaries are.