Managing Your Expectations

Managing parental expectations is an essential component of our consultation service at Behave Your Best! Learning to respect your child’s “switch” is an important part of the outcomes of our service. So is having realistic expectations of how your child will behave in different situations before, during and after learning a new skill.

Notice that I stated “before, during and after learning a new skill”. This implies we use YOUR CHILD’S behavior as a gauge for where your parenting expectations should be. Rather than basing your expectations solely on what you think your child should be able to do, we help you use your child’s behavior as a gauge. I’ve outlined a few steps to help guide you in the direction to managing your expectations to promote successful interactions between you and your child:

What is your real expectation?

Have your ever considered what you’d PREFER your child to do instead of unwanted behaviors? Most parents we meet are really good at telling their children what NOT to do. However, this doesn’t teach your child what your expectation actually is. A simple exercise can be to think of a previous event that was difficult for you and your child. Make a list of what didn’t go well or what you think might not go well. Then, think of what you’d like your child to do instead. Maybe your child interrupts you frequently. The expected behavior is that he will sit and play with toys while you catch up with a friend. By rephrasing these concerns as your real expectations, you are identifying what skills your child needs to learn.

Support YOUR “light switch”

By now we hope you are an expert at Pretending You Are a Light Switch!® If not, you can read about it on our blog post “Respect the Light Switch!” This technique applies to children AND adults!  We ALL have a “switch!” When your child engages in unwanted behaviors, it is very common that this can turn off your “light switch.” Supporting your “switch” is just as important as supporting your child’s “switch”. Because if your “switch” is off, you are less likely to proactively use your parenting tools. If you are uncertain how to respect your own “switch,” you can also read more about this in our blog post “You Have a “Light Switch” Too!”                                                                                                                

Teach your child using “baby steps”

Now that you’ve identified some skills with which your child needs support, use this information to teach! When you teach a new expected behavior, it is unlikely that you will be able to teach your child the end goal from the get-go. Instead, start where you know your child will be successful, and slowly practice small steps to guide your child to the end goal.

This is a similar approach to how you teach a child to read. While your end goal is for the child to be able to read books, we don’t start there. Your child first learns to identify letters. Then your child learns that each letter makes a sound. Then your child learns to blend sounds together. This is a gradual process and never along the way do we just “expect them to read.” So why, then, do we approach teaching children behavioral expectations differently? Our goal is to help you start to think differently about what your expectations for your child’s behavior. Then, to teach him to work through any difficult situations and keep her “switch” on more than it is off!


As your child’s behavior is improving and you are intentionally working on teaching him the new skills, review your progress. Possibly revisit some previous baby steps if you notice some unwanted behaviors happening more than they used to. Ensure that you are rewarding your child’s use of his desired behaviors in previously difficult situations! Think of this spin on rewards as “catching them being good.” The focus is to keep your child using his desirable behavior rather than telling him to stop because his behaviors got “bad enough” for you to need to address it.

Parents we’ve served have shared how adjusting their expectations alone has helped their “switch” stay on during unwanted behaviors. By meeting your child where she is at when you first address an issue, you are setting yourselves up for success. Then, teaching step-by-step is important for supporting your child’s “light switch” to stay on so she can benefit from the teaching. Once your child has the new tools in his/her tool belt, be sure to catch your child using those new tools to support them!

Finally, if you are wondering how to manage your expectations but are unsure about where to start, we would love to hear from you! Purchase your introductory, assessment 30-minute phone consultation. This consultation will help guide you to the next best step of support.

My best,

Anna Milligan, M.S.

Behavioral Consultant

The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute a behavioral consultation relationship between Behave Your Best, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as behavioral consultation and should not be construed as behavioral consultation.