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Expectation and Intentions

This post originally appeared in the 2010 Carnival of Gentle Parenting

Two ways that parents can fall into a negative pattern with their kids is through false expectations and intentions.  Having unrealistic expectations, for example expecting your toddler to sit quietly during dinner for an hour, sets parents up for frustration – thereby undermining gentle intentions.  Imagining malicious intention can be even worse.  Imagine your 11 month old throwing food off of their tray.  If you imagine she is doing it intentionally to annoy you your reaction will be very different than if you imagine she is having a great time learning about her power over objects.

David Elkind, in his book The Power of Play, calls this the egocentric trap.  He says, “This trap, which all parents slip into on occasion, is looking at situations entirely from our own perspective and failing to take the child’s point of view.”  In order to take your child’s point of view into account it is important to understand, from a developmental, perspective what your child is actually capable of.  Can an 18 month old sit quietly for an hour?  It is also important to relate to your child with empathy.  It is ok if these ideas don’t come naturally – practice makes perfect.  I recommend Elkind’s book and Baby Hearts by Susan Goodwyn.  Both books will help you change your expectations, assign reasonable intentions, and enjoy parenting.

Baby Hearts: A Guide to Giving Your Child an Emotional Head Start The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally
Baby Hearts: A Guide to Giving Your Child a…
by Susan Goodwyn Ph.D.
The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Natu…
by David Elkind

Assuming the Best Intentions

Lauren at Hobo Mama looks at the intentions we assign to children’s’ actions (and even adult’s actions) and how they usually says more about us than about them.

There’s a tendency to see misbehavior in any behavior that inconveniences us as adults…We’re not immune from taking this attitude even into our adult relationships. Ever had a partner or roommate leave the toilet paper roll empty? Was your first reaction righteous indignation and an assumption that it was done on purpose to spite you?

By taking a moment to step back (and out of Elkind’s egocentric trap) we can honor the impulse behind the behavior,

Is he running away? He’s connecting with me through play and seeking attention. He’s also showing his trust that we won’t truly lose him.  Is he making a mess? Children are messy creatures. They need to be free to experiment with objects and materials if they want to learn.  Is he being loud? He’s finding his own voice and honing his musical skills.

Lauren provides several great examples and resources for learning how to better assign intentions to our children.

Choosing Joy

Arwyn at Raising My Boychick provides us a great tool for checking if our expectations are reasonable,

Helping him meet our expectations means making sure that they’re reasonable, that there aren’t any impediments, and that he has the tools and guidance that he needs. Reasonable expectations take into account the world he lives in, and his abilities — both his limitations and his strengths (for children are often far more capable than we think). When he’s tantruming on the floor over his popped balloon, we consider that possibly he’s in HALT TOT (HALT TOT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Thirsty, Overstimulated, or in need of a Toilet), and seek to rectify that and address the underlying problem.

She also reminds us that checking our expectations has a positive effect for us as parents – it feels good!

[G]iven the choice, I would rather feel good. I would rather look at my child and smile because he’s being rambunctious and learning about his body than tense up and get ready to yell because he’s being wild and tearing through the place. I would rather take the time to find creative solutions that leave us all satisfied than waste hours feeling angry and resentful and listening to him cry and be grumpy. I would rather practice finding joy in chaos than create frustration trying to control that which is not controllable.

Her post reminds us that every day is a choice.  Why not choose joy?

Making it Fun – The Power of Play

Shana at Schmoopy Baby has definitely got choosing joy down pat!  She gives us some great examples of parenting through bringing out your inner goofball. Being silly can go a long way with kids, as she shows in this example,

Is it important to you to have dinner together as a family at night, but sometimes your little schmoo is more interested in tossing around his books in the living room at dinner time? Try bringing out a few pieces of a yummy dinner-friendly snack (grapes are my little one’s temptation) and pretend you’re a train taking the grapes to the kitchen table. Be sure to include lots of fun sound effects and dance around a bit as you make your way.

Could I pick him up off the floor and storm into the kitchen while yelling, “I said it’s dinner time. That means you come when I call you. I’m your mother and you better learn to respect me and do what I say!”? Well yes, I suppose I could. I could put up with a lot more crying and screaming and anger and frustration. But why would I choose screams when I can get giggles? And how would that contribute to the positive family vibe I am trying to create by having dinner together in the first place?

Giggles or screams?  I choose giggles.  Go read her post for some great examples of playful parenting (including some silly songs!).



Paige Lucas-Stannard is a Parenting Educator and Founder of Parenting Gently where she offers parenting classes and coaching to progressive parents. She’s a former NASA research librarian happy to be home raising her 3 IVF babies after nearly a decade of infertility. She likes to cook and sew and has, in general, become her mother. Happily. Follow her on Twitter @parentinggently


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