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Great Expectations: Shaping Behavior With Positive Beliefs

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


You love your kids. You have high expectations for them. But sometimes those expectations get in the way. What children need are great expectations, for who they are right now and what they aspire to be.

No one doubts that having high standards is important. It certainly is. Kids whose parents expect them to do well tend to come through with flying colors. In fact, the most reliable “test” for giftedness is not a test at all. It’s parental nomination. If you think your child is “gifted” she will act like a “gifted child” – and you will act like a gifted child’s parent.

And that’s the secret: acting like your child is already marvelous instead of acting as if you have to make him marvelous. It’s easy to be negative. It’s easy to be judgmental. It’s harder to believe in your child and to let him know you believe in him.

Stop and think. Assuming you think you have a “good” kid, how often do you tell your child positive things about himself? Some researchers say that “good kids” hear only six negative comments out of every 10. That’s just about half-and-half, negative and positive. Doesn’t your child deserve better than that?

And more challenging kids? They are lucky to hear anything good about themselves at all. The same researchers point out that kids who have the most problems tend to hear only negative comments from their parents and teachers. You know you get what you talk about. When children hear only discouraging comments, they achieve discouraging outcomes.

So what does your child – your fabulous-even-though-sometimes-challenging-child – need to hear from you? Let’s consider four things:

•    When she does something right, she needs to be told what she did right and how happy that makes you. Praise should not be tarnished by any “buts.” Resist the temptation to qualify your congratulations.

•    When she does something wrong, she needs to be told what she did right and how happen that makes you. And then she should be guided to see how she could do even better next time.

•    Every day, she needs to know that you think she’s wonderful and full of potential. She never needs to know that she’s acting like a baby or that you’re disappointed in her.

•    Every day, she needs to be guided in the essential skills for success: how to control her impulses, how to wait for a reward, how to think about others’ point-of-view, and how to “use her words” to communicate her feelings. Every child needs these skills first. Every child can profit from practicing these skills.

Guiding your child to happiness, friendship and success depends on first believing she already deserves these things and that these things are within her grasp. Having great expectations for your child is the first step to making your dreams come true.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.