Managing unrealistic expectations

Managing unrealistic expectations

Written by Nicole Frank

Are you struggling to find a balance between realistic and unrealistic expectations that you have for your children? Are you unable to manage your disappointment when your child does not live up to your expectations?

Then this blog is for you!

When I was little I dreamed of becoming a writer. I wrote my first story – based on characters from a movie I watched – when I was 9. My imagination was always running ahead of me and my parents would constantly have to remind me to be present. And now with information at the tip of their fingers, children can dream wild and they can dream big! Straight forward careers are a thing of the past and children have access to all of that.

I did not excel in formal schooling and was drawn to more artistic and cultural clubs. To pass a test, I had to study extremely hard and put great amounts of pressure on myself. I’m sure some of you can relate?

In high school, I wanted to choose subjects that were more relatable to me, but my father wanted me to take subjects that would “open up doors of opportunity”.

My father believed that I should be good at everything, especially academics. I was not of course. I had to study to understand simple concepts and just got by on average marks. I was never planning on becoming a scientist or a lawyer, so I wanted to do subjects such as History and Literature. He insisted that I stick to the core subjects: Mathematics, Physics and Biology. Let’s just say that I was not the teacher’s pet!

I asked him in Grade 11 if I could just quit and write, because I already knew I wanted to be a writer. He said of course I could write, but I had to finish school and study further. I had to be realistic. “Back up plans are important”.

There is a lesson from both of our perspectives. I was unrealistic in wanting only to write forever, but he didn’t take note of the struggle I was facing with subjects that I was unable to do. As a result, I scraped through Matric.

So how exactly do you as a parent manage your realistic expectations? How can you tell if they are unrealistic, like my dad’s were? Well, I’ve put together a list of ways that could help you do just that.

Have a conversation

Talk to your children about their dreams and aspirations. No matter how young children are, they like to dream and talk about what they want to be when they grow up. An open form of communication will help you understand your child’s perspectives slightly better. When you are having a chat with your children about how their day was and what happened at school today, throw in a question about their favourite subject at school and why it is their favourite subject. These questions give you insight into what your child finds interesting at school. It will also help you manage your expectations of your child.

We all want our children to perform well at school, but like me, some children are not academically inclined when it comes to Mathematics and Science. Talking to your children will help you recognise this and be able to put the necessary assistance in place without creating an unrealistic expectation of your child.

Motivate! Do not criticise!

The one positive thing my father used to do, regardless of his unrealistic expectation of me, was that he always motivated positively when it came to my academic results. He used to say that a “fail” was just more motivation to do better next time. As a result, I never gave up. I kept trying even after I did poorly in an assessment.

Your children need to know that you are their biggest cheerleader, whether they succeed or not. If they believe this, it becomes a subconscious motivating factor in their lives. They would want to do better. So when your child comes home with less than favourable results, or maybe did something that you would not approve of, explain to them that you expect more, but motivate them to do better. Show them that you believe that they have the ability to push forward. Your child will rise to the occasion and will be stronger for it.

Expectations vs Guidelines

This article is not condemning expectations. Expectations can be good for your children, because it allows them to know what you would like them to achieve and how you would like them to grow up. Let’s call them guidelines! Guidelines are a “how to” and they set a standard for the little human you are raising.

I do believe that there is a negative connotation to the word “expectation”, because it can make a child feel as though they are living for their parents and not for themselves. Children are sensitive, so when they feel as though they are not living up to their parents’ expectations, they withdraw.

Language plays such an important role in the way we address our children. By saying that these are YOUR guidelines and this is what you would like to see from your kids, you immediately move out of the “lecture mode” and into a more relaxed conversational mood with your child.

If you notice that they are struggling with reading, read to them more at night (and sign up to WorksheetCloud to get access to loads of reading comprehension exercises). Have a night in the evening where you act out your favourite story, engage with them and allow them to engage with their books.

Emotional intelligence

Children are not able to fully control their emotions. Some adults find it difficult as well. When our children do something that does not live up to our “expectations”, we should not get angry and start shouting at them. This causes fear rather than instilling the value of resilience.

Let me explain.

If your child does something wrong and you shout at them, your child probably won’t do that again because he/she is scared of you. BUT if you explain to your child why you feel that they have done wrong and how they can do better, it teaches them resilience. The next time another occasion presents itself, your child will want to change out of his or her own will and not out of fear of your reaction. Actions created out of fear almost always do not stay consistent. Children must be taught how to be disciplined, how to study and how to behave. And in actively teaching them, they will learn to do better.

Multiple Intelligences

Children have multiple intelligences. We are not all designed to be doctors and lawyers. So it is important to bear this in mind when you have an expectation of your child.

Try to identify your child’s interests as early as possible. This will not only help you be their biggest cheerleader, it will also help you manage your expectations of them. This does not mean that it is okay for your child to flunk out of a subject, but it will help your response to that scenario.

Remember, you cannot force your child to be good at something, but you can provide the guidance or tutelage to help them improve.


Steer clear of comparing your child to others. It is easy to admire the strengths of other children and want your child to reflect those strengths. The key is to remember that children are unique and each have gifts that may not be similar to one another. By comparing siblings especially, you might create sibling rivalry or worse, animosity between them.

The last thing you want is to make your child feel that he or she is not good enough!

Try to focus on the steps that I have suggested above. I would like to repeat that having expectations is normal as a parent. We all want our children to be the very best version of themselves. The task, however, is to avoid releasing those expectations as an either or situation. Human beings are colourful and ever changing and allowing our expectations to evolve helps our children to see that we can adapt with those changes.

Managing expectations is not an easy task, but it is rewarding. It can strengthen your relationship with your children as well as help you reflect on whether your expectations are realistic in relation to your individual, uniquely special child!

The Author - Nicole Frank

Nicole is one of our epic curriculum authors and is a fantastic primary school teacher! She is a loving mother, is always smiling and absolutely kills it at karaoke evenings.

WorksheetCloud is the most exciting way to study for exams and tests!

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  1. Andiswa Boqwana

    These are great advises ro us as parents. I am learning a lot.
    Thank you so much

    • Ross Frank

      That’s so awesome to hear Andiswa! 🙂 🙂


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