Why You Should Lower Your Expectations of your Child

Commentary Piece

Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year is undoubtedly the most important event in the Chinese calendar. This festivity is synonymous with heartwarming family gatherings, boisterous celebrations, and the enjoyment of unique, symbolism-laden gourmet delicacies.

I bought a bag of these little tangerines today. They are only slightly larger than golf balls.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

Despite the joyous occasion, the reality for many people may actually be quite stressful.

For young working adults like myself, Lunar New Year feels oddly like the year-end performance review at work. Where relatives ask for a full accounting of my performance during the year and then unanimously decide if I have lived a fulfilling year.

For parents, it becomes a comparison of their children's achievements. Even though we are well aware that these 'healthy competitions' are frowned upon, this vice continues because competitive relatives can’t help themselves.

Making an executive decision
Photo by Roland Samuel / Unsplash

In a recent article on managing the tension and stress at this festive gathering, Clinical psychologist Vyda S Chai of Think Psychological Services mentioned that not everyone can live up to the expectations of the ideal life set by relatives. This in turn becomes a cause for stress.

You need to know the difference between realistic and unrealistic expectations.

It is natural for parents to want the best for their children, to have high aspirations and dreams for them.

Photo by Gabriel Tovar / Unsplash

Expectations when clear and realistically set based on strengths become a tool in encouraging kids to be competent and hardworking. Such expectations help to develop a sense of self-worth and boost confidence.

Nancy Rose is a parenting coach and author of the book ‘Raise the Child You’ve Got — Not the One You Want.’ She says,

“Ask any child who failed to live up to his parents’ idea of success, and you’ll likely hear that they never felt good enough, or that their parents had expectations that they could not live up to.”


There is this misconception that unrealistic expectations push children to achieve more.

What if I told you this creates an adverse effect instead?

Having unrealistic expectations of your kids tears them down instead. When a child works towards an unachievable goal, they are going to start feeling bad about themselves.

A downward spiral occurs. The child starts feeling lousy about themselves, and then they stop trying.

Case in point. Being the son of not one, but two educators has its downside. My parents couldn't understand why I didn't do well in an exam. Neither was I able to explain why I failed. I had to deal with the fear of not being able to tell them I didn't do well.

In case you were wondering, Asian parents, don't deal so well with unmet expectations.

I was overwhelmed with the guilt of not living up to their expectations. Their reaction to the situation didn’t help either; it made things more distressing for me.

According to research published by American Psychological Association, the unrealistically high aspirations parents have for their child's achievement affects their performance instead.

Although parental aspiration can help improve children’s academic performance, excessive parental aspiration can be poisonous.


You need to dial down your reactions.

How you react when your child faces setbacks is important. It either makes or breaks them.

Photo by Nour Wageh / Unsplash

Whatever you do, never take the blame and shame approach. It leaves the child overwhelmed with guilt and disappointment. The child is left having self-doubt of their own capabilities and then choosing to give up instead.

Acknowledge and appreciate their effort, more so in the case of setbacks. Know that you have taught them well and trust that they have done their best. This motivates them to strive harder. It reduces the pressure they’re already putting themselves under to make you proud.

Yes, they're already working hard to make you proud.

So what should you do?

Take some time to figure out their strengths and interests. Observe what they do best and enjoy doing through their daily activities.

Treasure hunt map
Photo by N. / Unsplash

Have a chat with their teachers. You could also find that out yourself through applications like the LittleLives Portfolio feature where teachers share the lessons and learning moments of your child.

Our friends at Kiddy123.com also released an article on how you can discover and nurture your child's talents.

At the end of the day, expectations when done right can help parents find out the potential of their child and how hard they can push themselves. What we hope to see is self-esteem being built through success and achievement. That has everything to do with the expectations you set for your child.

The Lunar New Year celebrations for this year are going to be a little more subtle with gatherings limited because of the pandemic. This year, why not spend some time with your loved ones over the holidays.

Have a chat with your children and discuss the expectations you have for them. If they're older, you might even want to find out the expectations they have of you.

In any case, here's a guide we've put together to get you started!

​​To sum it up

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