Realistic Expectations For Your Young Child

I work closely with parents of kids as young as 4, and I often have parents ask me if their expectations are too high.

Should I expect my 5 year old to help with chores? Should my four year old know not to do that? 

Each child is different, and you will end up shaping your expectations around your children as they grow and develop. But below are a few unrealistic expectations for your children that I've seen or heard in my practice. 

1. "They should be playing with more kids."

Developmentally, 0-3 year olds don't really engage with others. A lot of times, children will engage in parallel play - playing next to other kids - rather than engaging them in cooperative play. You'll start to see more of this around ages 4 to 6, and I wouldn't be concerned about them not engaging other children in play until maybe 1st grade.

2. "They should know that's wrong."

Toddlers in particular don't have an innate sense that things are right or wrong - they just understand that their world has rules that they need to follow. And if a rule hasn't been clear or easy to follow, its very common for toddlers to break that rule. This is something that can be built by parents modeling expectations several times, and its helpful if parents can take a step back to explain why that is a household rule or expectation.

3. "They should be more respectful."

Respect is tricky to teach children, because it comes down to what you model for them and where they're at, developmentally. It's ok to be angry or have temper tantrums, and we expect this with young children.

Toddlers and younger children may hit, break toys, push other kids down - and it's not to reflect poorly on you. They're finding their way in the world, and this is a way that children express themselves.

However, if a child is hitting you or hitting others, you should set them aside and let them know it's not ok. If your 5 or 6 year old starts rolling their eyes or talking in rude tones, they're modeling someone else - so make sure to explain that it is not ok to do this in your house. 

Curious to hear more, or have a specific behavior you're concerned about? Email Kelsey to touch base and hear more about counseling options for your young child. Kelsey specializes in anxiety and anger management for kids and teens 4-college. Her practice, Compassionate Counseling St. Louis, works with families in Webster Groves, Brentwood, Kirkwood, Creve Couer, Town and Country, and surrounding areas.