Parenting Styles

The Danger of Negative Expectations

“What did I do wrong now?” That’s what my 7-year-old son asked me last week. And, sure, he does a lot of stuff “wrong”– teasing his sister, rolling his peas off the table, and leaving his clothes all over the house. But he also does a lot of things right; he asks how I’m feeling when I’m sick, he gets dressed quickly on school days, and knows just the right time to give an extra hug.

Unfortunately, I’ve fallen into the habit of zeroing in on his shortcomings, almost expecting him to mess up. Check out the dangers of negative expectations:

As humans, many of us are prone to notice and remember when we make mistakes more so than when we do something positive. In the same way, as parents, it’s easy to get trapped into focusing on our child’s mistakes.

Instead of getting good reports, many kids are faced with the tradition of listening to their errors recounted by their parents. Certainly we mean well. After all, it’s our job to train our children to understand the difference between right and wrong. I realize that in my haste to teach my girls responsibility, manners, how to share, and a host of other things, I sometimes error on the side of focusing on their faults.

The problem is that whenever we focus on negative things or have negative beliefs about someone, we will find evidence to support our view. This is called confirmation bias. In other words, we try to confirm what we believe about someone (positive or negative). If we are constantly focused on our child’s poor behavior, we will start to view him or her through a negative lens. We will begin to expect that kind of behavior. Sadly, when this happens people tend to live up to or down to our expectations.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to methodically notice what they do right on a daily basis. Marital researchers have discovered that when distressed couples began recording what the other mate did that was positive; the couple reported a substantial increase in their marital satisfaction. In the same way, make it a point to mentally record what your child does that is positive. I encourage you to share that with them before they go to bed. Imagine the positive effect on your children when the last word they hear that day is what they did right.


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