The Danger of Negative Expectations

expect the worst

“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 where I expect the worst from him and zero in on his shortcomings. Here is the danger of having negative expectations and what to do about it.

The Problem: 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.

The Solution: 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 their spouse 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.

Have you ever noticed yourself focusing on the negatives in your child?

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and is passionate to equip premarital and married couples with the knowledge, skills and insights necessary to enjoy a lifetime together.