How do parental expectations affect children? There are plenty of people who could testify to the harmful effects of failing to meet their parent’s expectations, and probably many more who aren’t even aware of the harmful effects that it has had on them. So one might wonder if parental expectations are ever a good thing.
The answer is – it depends. Having expectations for children is unavoidable, most new parents fantasize about exactly how their child’s life will go from the moment they are born. The main concern when speculating on if these expectations are harmful or helpful is whether or not they are attuned to the child’s interests, talents and tendencies.
On one side of the spectrum expectations can be helpful at instilling a sense of belonging, encouragement and guidance. Children feel a tremendous sense of belonging from the fact that their parents seem to care about what they do as much as they care about themselves – conversely if the child feels there are no expectations and they can do anything they want, they may feel uncared for. Expectations are important for guiding children and encouraging them to succeed in their own unique talents and goals.
On the other side of the spectrum, expectations can set children up for feeling like a disappointment, feeling shame, and having low self-esteem. Since children first develop a sense of themselves from how they are experienced by their parents, if they feel they are not meeting expectations they are likely to internalize it and view themselves as disappointments. The key is, whether the child feels that they can remedy the disappointment without compromising their own identities. If this is the case, they are likely to be motivated rather than harmed by the expectations.
So yes, having expectations for children can absolutely be a good thing! It can make them feel loved, valued and important, just watch out for expectations that are unattainable, unrealistic, or ill-suited to the child. These types of expectations might send mixed signals and lead to internal conflicts.