5 Ways to Set ‘High Expectations’ Without ‘High Pressure’

Australian students are excelling when their teachers hold them to high expectations.

But in equal numbers, kids around the country are suffering from poorer mental health…

And it’s being largely attributed to mounting pressures at school.

But what’s the difference between high expectations and high pressure?

It can be a fine line — and one that many parents are struggling to define.

But you can expect the best from your children without piling on the pressure…

It’s all about making the line as clear as possible, to yourselves and to your kids.

Why you should have high expectations of your children

‘Having expectations is really about helping people reach their full potential’, explains our staff psychologist Jessica Levetan.

Childhood and adolescence involves learning about the world, and finding your place in it.

So with so much to learn, it makes sense that the source of each child’s motivation might not be clear…

And parents need to help them find it.

‘It’s really important to have expectations of kids, adults, anyone, because if you have no expectations then people don’t strive for things,’ explains Jess.

Parents — and teachers — are the most influential people in children’s lives.

So if a child (somewhat understandably) can’t see the inherent value in studying, or doing chores, or being responsible…

Meeting their parents’ expectations that they should do these things can provide the best source of motivation.

But high expectations don’t just benefit behaviour…

It also has a significant impact on attitude and self-worth.

A recent survey of 6,800 students found that those who felt their teachers had high expectations of them performed significantly better in NAPLAN…

And were at least three months ahead of their peers by year 9.

A result that is likely due to increased motivation levels, but also increased confidence.

Because without high expectations, kids ‘don’t feel they are capable and competent’, says Jessica.

 ‘So saying I believe you can do this, I have faith in you, I believe you can reach your goals, lets work towards it… that’s what high expectations are about’.

Whether expectations are set by teachers or parents — a child can feel confident that that the goals that are set for them can be met.

The difference between high expectations and high pressure

While high expectations can help people to reach their full potential…

Expectations can spill over into pressure when they are inflexible, unrealistic, or inadequately supported.

As Jessica explains, ‘Pushing kids, not being empathetic to their struggles, not being supportive of their struggles, and to make winning or being the best the be all and end all… that’s not what having high expectations is about’.

High expectations push people to achieve their best…

Pressure pushes them to be THE best.

While high expectations help kids to feel confident and capable…

Pressure can make kids feel unable to live up to expectations.

And while high expectations can be motivating and encouraging…

Pressure can lead to avoidance, anxiety and low self-esteem.

And the reality is: kids put enough pressure on themselves.

No child actively wants to do badly at school, to disappoint their parents or to ‘fail’ at something they’ve tried to excel in.

So you can work on upping the expectations and lowering the pressure on your children by adopting these attitudes and approaches to home and school life.

1. Adopt a Growth Mindset.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, a Growth mindset is the key to success.

It involves focussing on the value of the process that goes into things…

Rather than the outcome.

With a Growth mindset, you will have high expectations of the effort that goes into study and learning…

While a Fixed mindset may put high pressure on getting good grades.

Support a Growth mindset in your children by emphasising the important of hard work — as the key to good grades, and also as something of value in and of itself.

2. Make expectations clear, realistic and reasonable.

Many kids become overwhelmed by pressure because they don’t know exactly what is expected of them…

Their parents want them to do well at school… but what does this mean?

To get good grades? To top the class? Or to acquire knowledge and skills?

Set achievable expectations for your kids and make sure they know exactly what they are, and how you expect them to achieve them.

This again places the focus on the processes, rather than outcomes.

Clear high expectation: ‘I expect you to study for at least one hour a day.’

Unclear high pressure:I expect you to get a 99 ATAR’.

3. Aim for personal bests and fulfilled potential. 

Not every child can get into the top sporting team…

Nor can every student get into their first university preference.

But they can still play sport, improve and even excel in it, and they can still find a pathway to their desired degree.

It is reasonable and beneficial to expect fulfilled potential…

But putting high pressure on numbers and ranks is unproductive, and often detrimental.

4. Let them make mistakes.

Kids might seek out help with their assignments when they’re feeling stressed…

They might ask for a sick day so they can skip the sports festival…

But it’s important to remember:

Kids are expected to be competent enough to independently fulfil all of their school-set obligations. 

By helping them too much, you can send the message that your expectations are low, and that they can’t meet those set by their teacher.

And even if they do struggle, ‘failure’, in it’s many forms, is an inevitable part of life.

By understanding that from a young age, kids grow to be motivated by their mistakes, to discover where they went wrong, and to strive to fix them in the future – on their own.

5. Offer support and encouragement through the process.

Let your kids know that you have faith in their ability…

That you believe they are confident and capable…

And that importantly — hard work is what’s needed to get good results.

Offer them whatever emotional and practical support you can, and that they may need, in order to achieve their goals.

This could offering them a sympathetic ear when they’re feeling stressed…

Or listening to them go over what they learnt in school over dinner.

However, it’s important to be restrained with both reassurance and praise in the face of disappointment.

For example, praising a child to comfort them over a disappointing outcome sends the wrong message:

Not only does it suggest you have low expectations, it also negates the impact of genuine praise.

And reassurance in times of upset can be similarly problematic:

It can suggest that you have a lack of confidence — and therefore low expectations — of your child’s ability, and it can be an ‘easy out’ from addressing failure’s head-on as learning experiences.

All in all, the best emotional and practical support you can offer your child is during the process, not after the outcome.

And one of the best ways you can support your child, boost their confidence, and increase their motivation, is to have high expectations.

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