Teens & Expectations: Do You Motivate or Cause Anxiety?

Parents are teachers, role models, leaders and guides.  We spend years trying to impart lessons about life.  We want our children to become self-motivating.  We want them to have a desire to strive and achieve.  In our quest to encourage them, we need to be careful not to cross the line that divides expectations from unreasonable pressure.

Expectations should be realistic and achievable.  We need to know that the ability to complete the task or exhibit the behavior is absolutely within our child’s capabilities.  We need to have expectations that are about our own children as individuals and not in comparison to others. We need to have expectations that are not wishes.  You can wish for your children but, ultimately, they will not live out your dreams.  They need to develop and find their own.  If you try to force them to live your dreams for them, they will never be their authentic selves.  If they fail to live up to their parents’ wishes, that feeling of failure becomes a part of their self-image. 

Do you motivate your children or do you cause anxiety?  Do you support them in reaching reasonable goals?  Rare is the parent who hopes to raise anxious, self-conscious children who feel like they can never succeed.  That is not the goal.  Be sure it is not the product of your messages to your children.  Consider these differences:

Grades
  • Expectation:  Trying your best to achieve the best grade possible for you
  • Wish:  Getting straight A’s every time

The expectation should be about effort and not a specific result.  We all have subjects that we can grasp easier than others.  If math or literacy is difficult for your child, an A may not be achievable.  Sometimes, the best they can do is a B or C.  When a child works very hard and gets a grade lower than desired, their own frustration is enough.  Parents need to teach them that this is life – sometimes you work really hard and the result is less than you hoped.  As long as you work really hard, then you have done all you can do.  When you don’t try your hardest, society metes out the consequences and will continue to do so.  Our children need to understand that poor grades due to lack of effort will not help them to achieve goals.  Sometimes, children need to learn that through experience, too.  We can't set unreachable goals and we can't always save them from consequences.

Sports
  • Expectation:  Practicing to hone skills that will add to your performance and be a team player
  • Wish:  Being selected for the elite team or elite position on the team

Parents need to convey the message that participating in a sport is a commitment.  They have to be willing to practice.  They have to be team players by doing what is needed and by supporting their teammates.  They don’t always need to be the absolute best and, sometimes, they will not be selected for the elite team or to be a starting player.  Dealing with that disappointment is a life lesson.  Sometimes, it is our role to support the achievements of others.  That doesn't diminish our own hard work.

We can motivate our teens to be the best they each can be.  First, parents need to accept.  We need to accept who our children are without comparison to others.  We need to accept the limits of their capabilities just like we want other people to accept our own limits.  We need to encourage, support and motivate so that we are not the cause of anxiety beyond that which is already heaped on everyone in our constantly connected, product based society. 

When you are setting goals, include your children.  Talk about what you expect and why.  Ask how they feel about your expectations and listen closely.  Listen for their fears and self-doubt. Discuss their concerns without judgement.  Open the doors to communication by including your teens in conversations that are actually about them. 

 
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Comments

  1. Very well said. Kate and I (co-authors of "Great Parenting Skills (GPS) for Navigating Your Kid's Personality" completely agree. We delve into this into our book through the lens of temperament. I really like the distinction you make between expectations and wishes.

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