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De-Stressing Parenting with Realistic Expectations

Bonnie Harris


Expectation: A child’s job is to get what he wants when he wants it

Children are always after what they want. It’s what they do — and it’s normal. Actually aren’t we all after what we want? Isn’t that why we get our buttons pushed. Our children aren’t doing what we want.

This does not mean we should give them what they want. But when we expect that they should not ask for, fight for, demand what they want (wouldn’t parenting be so much easier), we hold a very unrealistic expectation — one we will both fail miserably at. When your child is made to believe he is bad for wanting (“Money doesn’t grow on tress you know”, “Will you stop! How many times do I have to say no.”) his normal developmental drive is thwarted.

If we fear something is going to be withheld or taken from us, when we do get our hands on it, we grab, hoard, hide it or gorge on it. If a child is continually told he cannot have what he wants, his demands will increase.

But what if I can’t afford what he wants or I don’t think it’s appropriate? Good questions. Like I said, you don’t have to give him what he wants, but you can always allow him to dream. When he says, “I want a rocket ship”, instead of, “Don’t be silly. You can’t have that”, try, “What fun that would be. How can you make that happen?” It’s fear that prompts the immediate, “No.” Fear of what you have to do to make her happy. Fear of your child’s ingratitude and entitlement. Fear she will never be satisfied. The anger and frustration that often accompany recurrent demands tells children we expect them to be satisfied without what they want.

We can always, always allow our children’s fantasies, wishes, and dreams. We don’t have to pay money, sacrifice our time, or spoil a child to address their wants. Realistic expectations tell us that their demands are realistic. It is not realistic that they won’t demand. Let them know their desires are understandable and fine. “Of course you want that. I bet I would too if I were you. I’m not going to buy it, so what do you think you can do to get one yourself?” Giving an allowance helps eliminate the daily demands and let’s you off the hook.

Dawn warned her 11-year old son Jamie that they were getting a gift for her aunt and nothing else. Sure enough, as soon as her attention was elsewhere, Dawn heard, “Mom! I have to have this!” Dawn had spent years trying to teach Jamie that he couldn’t always get what he wanted — years in a losing battle. Once Dawn learned how to set expectations for success , she was ready to try something new. She walked over to see the shiny, red remote control car that had caught Jamie’s attention.

Instead of, “What did I just get through saying? What don’t you understand about no? This is not about you. Now, go wait in the car,” the old script she could write in her head in a nano-second, she changed her tune. “Boy that’s beautiful isn’t it? I totally get why you want it.” Then she added, “The other day I was in a store and saw a chair I really wanted to replace that ratty beige one in the TV room. It was so perfect, but I couldn’t afford it. So I know how you feel.

Dawn switched from holding a very unrealistic expectation that Jamie would understand her frustration and correct himself by curtailing his demands. When she changed her mindset, she automatically help a more realistic expectation that of course he wants what he wants because he’s a kid.

Jamie stared open-mouthed at his mother. Dawn realized he had never before heard her talk about her desires or inability to pay for something she wanted. They finished shopping and walked out sharing stories about things they both wished for.

Dawn validated her son’s desire — enough to allow him to move on — and he learned something about delayed gratification.

If Dawn were to recite the old script, Jamie would have felt blamed and angry, gone into fight mode, declare that he never got what he wanted, and sulk for hours. Unintentionally Dawn would have provoked the next scenario of his demands.

What we all want is to be understood, heard, and accepted. When Dawn expected Jamie to go after what he wanted, she could acknowledge his desire without getting sucked into his demands.

We can and should teach our children that they can always get what they want as long as they put in the effort needed to get it, build it, create it. Supporting their desires does not mean fulfilling them.


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Bonnie Harris

Bonnie Harris, M.S.Ed. is the director of Connective Parenting and is an international speaker and parent educator. She has taught groups and coached parents privately for thirty years. Bonnie is the author of two books, "When Your Kids Push Your Buttons" and "Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With”. You can learn more about her work at or follow her on Facebook