Managing a Child’s ExpectationsBy Vicki Abary
The older your child becomes, the harder it gets to fool him.
When Enzo was 4, I could readily leave the house with nary a complaint from him. Now that he is 7, he not only asks where I am going, he asks what time will I be home, not to be home too late and if I am tricking him with my answer. He’s worse than a husband!
The trick, er, handy tip I have come to learn with my son is to give him ample advanced warning with every endeavor. I’ve come to understand my son is not the jump and dive right in kind of person; that he needs some time to warm up to a situation. We’re going to a children’s party? It’s always better if we go right on time or even 30 minutes before so he can get acclimatized to the venue. We’re going on holiday with friends on the weekend? I tell him on Monday before it and explain what we’ll be doing while we are there, who we will be with and if there will be a dog or not (he is deathly afraid of them). I even go as far as telling him how many more days we will be away by counting: “Today is Friday, Day Zero. We will go home on Sunday, Day Two.” Will I be going on a work trip abroad for a few days? This too, needs some time for it to sink in to him. Whether your child is like mine or immediately feels comfortable in any situation, all children around this age need to have their expectations managed.
When I go to the mall for errands, Enzo always wants to come with me. I want him to come with me too – but I know sometimes he has a hidden agenda and I specifically tell him that we are going to the mall to do three errands and that does not include a trip to the toy store. I find that this technique of being extremely specific with your tasks will save your child (who might be hoping a toy/ book/ video will come with the trip) from endless tears. Sometimes when he is feeling antsy he will even impatiently ask me, “Mama, is this errand number 2?” If he insists on getting something even while we are at the mall and it escalates into a meltdown, I take him to a private area where we can sit so I can explain that I said we were there to do errands and that he understood me when I told him that at the house. Sticking to your plan while at the mall helps the situation.
This is not easy – even the best-intentioned parents make mistakes and sometimes the outcome isn’t controllable. Sometimes, a party ends later than expected, someone brought a dog or the movie they wanted to watch wasn’t playing anymore.
By now, Enzo asks if his friends can visit him for a play date at home. Because he is an only child, quite often I call his best friends’ mothers to set a date. When Enzo asks me if his friend Gonzalo is coming over that same morning, I tell him: “I asked his mommy. Let’s wait and see if he is free to visit today. But if he can’t come over, what else would you like to do?” And when Gonzalo’s mommy confirms for another date, he is ready to have a Plan B.
For now, putting the power of choice in his hands is a very useful technique. Enzo recently won some money from an Easter Egg Hunt and wanted to buy a blue Bey Blade (spinning top) with a whale picture on it. He knew exactly what he wanted but when we got to Toy Kingdom later that afternoon, they didn’t have the Bey Blade he was looking for in a specific box. It was in a box labeled Random, and I looked through every Random box until I found the same kind of Bey Blade he was looking for – except that the color of the design was clear, not blue. He immediately began to whine. “Mama, I don’t want that one. I want the blue one. That’s unfair!” So I gave him the power of choice: “Enzo, do you want this clear Bey Blade that mommy found for you or do you want to go home with no Bey Blade?” He chose the clear Bey Blade.
Now there are situations where you try to manage your child’s every expectation, but there is no way he or she will change his or her mind about something. Enzo has told me, on more than one occasion, “I don’t like the beach!” and no matter how far in advance I tell him that I’m going to take him, he just doesn’t want to go. You win some, you lose some. As a parent, I too have to manage my expectations of sometimes what I want and what my son wants are two different things and I have to learn I can’t always get my way with him. But that’s for another story.
April 16, 2012 by Guest Writer