The Power of Parental Expectations
If you want to have your children behave well, then let them know how you expect them to behave, in a positive way. These are the steps.
1. Tell your child how you expect him/her to behave, using positive statements.
2. If possible, include what the child can earn by doing what you expect.
3. Have your child repeat back to you what you expect him/her to do and how it will benefit him/her.
4. Positively acknowledge the restatement of the expectation.
5. Wait for the child to start meeting the expectation, and then give positive attention or other rewards.
Here is an example from one mom I worked with. Her daughter was 3, and the mom described her as a “monster child.” The child would do virtually nothing appropriately, such as eating, getting ready for bed, getting ready in the morning, or being dropped off at day care. Even something that should be fun, such as going to McDonald’s, was a miserable experience. At McDonald’s the daughter would crawl under the table, or sit on mom’s lap and put her head on mom’s neck so mom could not eat. The child would not eat her food, and would beg for ice-cream continually. Here is the way the conversation went before going to McDonald’s.
Mom: “We are going to McDonalds for supper. When we arrive, we will all go in and Daddy will order the food at the counter. When we are doing that, I expect you to stand beside me quietly. When we get our food, we will go to a table. Mommy and Daddy will sit in our chairs, and I expect you to sit in your own chair. I expect you to eat your food, which is eating at least 8 bites of food. Then I expect you to stay in your seat and wait until Mommy and Daddy are finished. When we are finished, and if you have done these things, you have earned ice-cream, so you may ask for ice-cream, and then you will get ice-cream. So, honey, what I do I expect you to do while we are ordering and waiting for our food?”
Child: “Stand by you.”
Mom: “That is right! Stand by me quietly. Then when we go to the table, what do I expect you to do?”
Child: “Sit in my own chair.”
Mom: “Very good, and how many bites of food do I expect you to eat?”
Child: “8 bites.”
Mom: “Yes! That’s right! At least 8 bites. And then what?”
Child: “Then I need to wait for you and Daddy to finish.”
Mom: “Wonderful dear. And then what do you get to do?”
Child: “Then I ask and we can have ice-cream.”
Mom: “That is great! Thank you for listening so well.”
They all went to McDonald’s, and while ordering and waiting for the food, the mom gently touched her daughter and occasionally said something like, “You are doing a good job standing with me.”
Now, when they got the food and went to the table, Mommy and Daddy sat down in their chairs. Where did the daughter go? If you said that she sat in her own chair, you are correct. The odds are very good that she would do this instead of getting under the table, or trying to sit in the mom’s lap. So, the daughter sat in her own chair and the food was placed before her. The mom looked over at her daughter and said, “You are such a big girl sitting in your own chair.” Throughout the meal, the mom and dad continued to make occasional positive comments.
The daughter ate her 8 bites of food, and then waited. When the mom and dad were finished, the daughter asked for ice-cream, and they all had ice-cream. The mom was absolutely dumbfounded and utterly delighted.
Now why did this work so well. First of all, the mom used instructive, positive language about what she expected the daughter to do. She said, “I expect you to sit in your own chair.” instead of saying, “Don’t get under the table.” or “Don’t sit in my lap.” Additionally, the expectation was stated as just that, and expectation. If it was stated as an order, it would not have been as effective.
Secondly, the mom introduced a positive earned reward for meeting the expectation. The child earned ice-cream. Note that this too was stated in a positive way. The mom set up the contingency so that meeting the expectation earned ice-cream. She could have set up the same contingency by saying, “If you act up at McDonalds, then I won’t let you have any ice-cream.” Although the contingency seems the same, it is drastly different to the child. We all behave better when we earn something for behaving well, instead of loosing something for behaving poorly.
Thirdly, the mom had the daughter repeat back the expectation. Kids are always more impressed by what they say than by what you say. The fact that the daughter repeated the expectation increased the probability that she would actually do it. Also, you don’t know what a child has really heard, unless you hear it from the child.
Finally, the mom actively recognized the good behavior as it started to happen. She did not just ignore the child while standing in the line for food. She took the opportunity to give both her words and touch to her child for starting to meet the expectation. Stating the expectation got the behavior started, and then continually giving positive acknowledgements of the appropriate behavior kept the momentum going in the right direction until the child had met the entire expectation and earned her reward of ice-cream.
Give it a try. If you have a cute experience to share, I would love to hear from you.
Also, if I can be of help, give me a call. Happy parenting!
Note: Parenting coach and child behavior expert Tom Dozier can help you and your family if you live in any city in the Bay Area. The first visit should be at his office in Livermore, but after that, meetings can be held by secure internet telecommunication (similar to Skype). It is also possible to have the initial meeting with Tom via internet, so it is not mandatory that you travel to Livermore for the first meetings. Cities near the Bay Area include Alameda, Antioch, Belmont, Benicia, Berkeley, Brentwood, Burlingame, Campbell, Concord, Cupertino, Lafayette, Lathrop, Livermore, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Manteca, Martinez, Menlo Park, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Napa, Newark, Novato, Oakland, Oakley, Pacifica, Palo Alto, Petaluma, Pittsburg, Daly City, Danville, Dublin, East Palo Alto, Fairfield, Foster City, Fremont, Gilroy, Hayward, Hercules, San Jose, San Leandro, San Mateo, San Pablo, San Rafael, San Ramon, Santa Clara, Santa Rosa, Saratoga, Pleasant Hill, Pleasanton, Redwood City, Richmond, Rohnert Park, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Francisco, South San Francisco, Stockton, Suisun City, Sunnyvale, Tracy, Union City, Vacaville, Vallejo, Walnut Creek, and Windsor.