Happy Medium may as well be the name of a unicorn … with leprechaun as jockey, riding down the rainbow into Never, Ever Land. You can picture it, but have no proof such actually exists.
By their children you’ll know them — those yet to find Happy. A thousand-yard stare toward the intersection of 1st and Fame will confirm them, they who can, nay must, be good at everything.
Maybe we adults read too many volumes of The Boxcar Children or took Annie’s orphaned status as an indictment of absentee parenting. By contrast, being too present with a list of unreasonable expectations may also do irreparable harm to kids. Bad things can happen when we expect too much. They also occur, as studies attest, to children whose parents and teachers have low expectations of them. So how do we saddle-break Happy Medium, the pony kids really deserve?
Hamlet Smith, therapist /director of Life Strategies, Inc., has a few pointers about taming our expectations.
Children are hardwired, reveals Smith, to seek their parents’ approval. “This creates fabulous power to exercise in their lives. The real trick is to realize when our expectations are helping them or hurting them.”
The dangers of unrealistically high expectations? “(They) build resentment and failure into their little souls. We will send them on a never-ending journey to try and make us proud or we frustrate them so badly, they just give up.”
On the contrary, says Smith, having too low expectations creates another set of problems: “They end up on our couch playing video games at 35. No pressure, right?”
“The story is told of a father who, while trying to motivate his son, said: ‘When Abe Lincoln was your age, he walked to school.’ To which his son replied: ‘Yeah, and when he was your age, he was president.’ Avoid saying one thing and doing another with children — who have hawk’s eyes for inconsistency. “Saying one thing and doing another drives bitterness deep into your child’s soul. Model the behavior you want to see from your child.”