Recently, at church on a Sunday morning, I saw a young elementary-age boy having a bad morning. He started to throw a fit because he didn’t want to go to class. I felt for him and was two seconds from stepping in when his mom bent over and calmly explained, “We talked about this before we got here, and you know we expect you to go to your class.” Through gulping tears, he turned and started toward his class. I wanted to go and hug this mom. To stand firm in the face of big tears was tough, but to know she was staying the course of her expectations was encouraging.
When we read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, we tend to just run past the first verse:
“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, 2 and He began to teach them.” Matthew 5:1
When I read this verse, I almost pause, because in the whisper of “He began to teach them,” I can see the love Jesus has for this crowd, and the lessons He so passionately wants them to learn. I want to encourage you to think of parenting much the same. Our role, much like Jesus’, is to teach our kids the way they should go. But how do we do that? What do we teach them? As you read on in Matthew 5, you can see where He clearly lays out His expectations for us, and we can do the same for our children.
Three steps to setting expectations:
- Decide together what you expect from your children before you are in the situation. This is tough because you often don’t know what you expect before you see behavior you don’t like. But take the time with your spouse to talk through your expectations for normal life, such as cleaning the playroom before bed, behavior at the dinner table, how to address adults, when to say please and thank you, etc. By setting the guidelines early, children find it easier to meet your expectations, and they will feel more secure and confident.
- Clearly communicate expectations, consistently. Try this next time you take your kids out to dinner. When pulling up to the restaurant, before getting out of the car, remind your children of your expectations of restaurant behavior. For example: “Remember, kids, when we go into the restaurant, no standing in chairs, no crawling under the tables, no walking around the table, no whining, and no complaining that you don’t like something.” If children know clearly what is expected of them, it is easier for them to find comfort in those boundaries. It might seem like you have said the same things 1000 times. But repetition is key to setting the foundation of understanding.
- Explain the consequences with full intention of following through. Along with explaining the expectations, kids will more likely meet those expectations if they know the consequences of their behavior. But here is the tricky part: You must follow through with the consequences, even when it is inconvenient for you. When my son was young, we had a no-fit policy for the grocery store. If there was a fit, we would have to leave the store immediately. More than once, we left a full cart of groceries and went home. Soon, my son learned that if he wanted his favorite cereal for breakfast, we needed to finish the shopping without a fit. On the reverse, if you do not follow through, you are teaching your child that your expectations of behavior are negotiable.
“Explaining our expectations (ad nauseum, it will seem to us) provides security to children. Lack of boundaries is a root cause of insecurity and expectations = boundaries.” Rachel Norman, blog: amotherfarfromhome.com
We have all failed in the explaining our expectations department from time to time. But explaining our expectations over and over again, until it becomes second nature, is a successful parenting tool.
Christine Clark is the Ministry Leader for Family Ministries at Stonebriar Community Church. She has a passion for supporting parents and helping them gain confidence and tools to be spiritual leaders in their homes. She is blessed to be the mom of a high school sophomore and the wife of her college sweetheart for 25 years. She is also an avid sports fan who loves all things football, especially in the fall in Texas.