Realistic Expectations in Children's Behavior

By Kay Ireland
Keeping realistic expectations can help you improve your child's self-esteem.
Keeping realistic expectations can help you improve your child's self-esteem.

As a parent, you want what's best for your child. But getting ahead of yourself when it comes to behavioral expectations can set you up for frustration and your child up for failure. While it's OK to discipline your child and expect her to behave appropriately, don't expect perfection. Whether you're raising a toddler or a teen, keep your expectations in check while fostering the best possible behavior from your child.


Discipline is an excellent way for you to teach your child what you expect of her behavior, but expecting too much can set her up for failure and a blow to her self-esteem. By maintaining realistic expectations for behavior, you can then create disciplinary tactics based on where your child is at developmentally. Obviously, the behavior of a 3-year-old differs significantly from that of an 11-year-old. When your child is able to fulfill your expectations and follow rules based on her maturity level and age, she gets a major confidence boost, making the realistic expectations healthier and more beneficial than keeping your child to impossible standards.

Development and Maturity

It's all too easy to compare your child to another, especially if another child seems better behaved. Remember that your child is an individual and that his maturity level and development is different from that of even a child his same age. When setting expectations for your own child, take his personality into consideration. Some children are naturally more spirited than others, some are shyer and some are more defiant. Setting expectations should be a personal approach for your child and your child alone.

Common Expectations

If you're unsure of where to set the bar for your child's behavior, start at your pediatrician's office. You can learn about the milestones your child should be approaching and how that affects her overall behavior. While each child's development is different, your doctor can help you chart a course toward better behavior by helping you understand what to expect from your child. Some common behavior issues that you'll likely deal with include separation anxiety, impulsiveness, egoism, anger and aggression, and a struggle for independence, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Improving Behavior

After you've set realistic expectations as to how your child should and shouldn't behave, it's fine to work to improve negative behaviors. Discipline, both positive and negative, can be used to improve your child's behavior without affecting his self-esteem. Creating consequences for not reaching expectations and offering praise for exceeding those expectations are two ways you can coax better behavior out of your child, no matter his age.

About the Author

Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.