The Power of High Expectations – 2 Key Parental Tips For Today’s Parents

Parents, each one of us, as leaders in our home, has some level of expectation when it comes to one of our children, one of our teens.  Even if it is a negative expectation or no expectation whatsoever (which in itself is a negative expectation). What is your expectation for your children and/or your teens? Are they positive or are they negative.  Do your expectations arise from your personal desires or are they based on the gifts you see in your child or teen?  I wish to discuss the power of expectations, establishing an environment for high expectations through your own servant leadership in your home.

Parents one of the primary steps you can take to establish an environment, in your family, for high expectations is to exercise control over the words that your son or daughter hears from others. Like it or not, when you, I or anyone hears either a positive or negative description about us; it imprints a picture upon our mind about ourselves. John C. Maxwell, in his latest book “A Leader’s Greatest Return” says, “People often become what the most important influencers in their lives think and say they will become. If people you care about tell you how terrible you are, you’re going to have a difficult time rising up to a better life. If you’re told every day that you can’t lead, you probably won’t even try. But when people believe in you and communicate it repeatedly, you gain confidence and try harder.”

Many adults, even with all their life experiences, still have a difficult time with negative descriptions of themselves by others. Can you imagine what it is like for a child or teen, who does not have life experiences to fall back on? Thus you, I and every parent has to be careful as to the words used to describe our sons and daughters. And parents you have to be vigilant of what is said to your child outside your home.  Meaning you have to be observant of the negative descriptive words spoken to your child by a coach, teacher, or other adult leader.

If a child or teen is described often enough as stupid, worthless, ugly, etc., these negative words will imprint bleak pictures of themselves upon their minds. Likewise. a parent or mentor asking a child or teen why they can’t be more like (another student, brother, sister, cousin, etc.) Those bleak pictures often places a lid or boundary of low expectations and limits their personal development. It creates a negative image inside of them. They figure that if this is how they are seen by parents or those in authority, the negative image must be who they truly are.  As such, this negative image becomes a self for filling prophecy.  There is a technical term for this called the Pygmalion Effect.  The Pygmalion Effect is a phenomenon in which children, teens, and even adults increase or decrease their level of personal development depending on the level of expectation of others. As such, parents, teachers, mentors, etc. your expectations weld a great deal of influence over the level of performance of a child or teen.

So how do you as a parent build an environment of high expectations in your family?  You build it on a foundation of servant leadership in the home. J. A. Laub, describes servant leadership as, “Leadership which develops people by providing opportunities for learning and growth, modeling appropriate behavior, and by building up others through encouragement and affirmation.  So let us take a look at all three of Laub’s suggestions.

  • Regarding the first point, parents you have to be the type of leader, in the home, that provides opportunities for learning and growth for each child.  Every child and teen are going to make mistakes.  They are going to fall short, but every mistake and shortfall is a teaching opportunity. And negative descriptors are counter productive to learning and personal growth.  We can firmly correct and discipline our children without name calling. After all, discipline comes from the word disciple which means to mentor or teach another. Ensure you get them to own their mistakes by asking them what went wrong, what did they learn from it, how should you fix this and what’s the best way to not repeat the mistake again?  And do not be so caught up in the mistake parents that you do not see the positives in a situation. For example, the teen may have made a poor choice, but their heart was in the right place. You want your child to act out of good motives of the heart and to be able to make the proper choice to do so when appropriate.
  • Parents, you have to model the type of behavior you wish to see. Let each child know you hold yourself to a high standard by applying your unique gifts to be the best you can be every day.  Likewise you wish for them to apply their unique gifts to be the best they can be each day.  One time my dad raise his hand above his head and told me that he knew I had the ability to perform at this level. Then he would bring his hand down to his knee and tell me this is why he never lets me perform at this level. He told me I had too much going for me to ever allow me to get away with existing beneath what I was capable of.  Not what he, my father or anyone else was capable of, but what he knew I was uniquely capable of.  And because my dad modeled this, I now do the same with my children, as well as, the kids & teens I mentor and coach today.
  • Lastly, you have to build your children up through encouragement and affirmation.  Now I’m not saying to have a praise fest  or throw a party each time your child does something.  However, when your child makes noticeable strides in the direction your guiding them towards, affirm them for it immediately whenever possible.  Then encourage them to do more of the same. Your words of affirmation and praise are going to be imprinted on your child’s self image.  In doing so you are providing your son or daughter the best opportunity for positive personal development in self-confidence, self-discipline, and wisdom.

Robert Greenleaf, father of modern servant-leadership, once ask these questions: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? Parents be the servant leaders of your family. And set high expectations by serving each and every child through words of affirmation, wise discipline, and modeling positive behavior for them. And to do so in such a fashion your child will develop a self image of being healthier, wiser, freer,  and more autonomous servant leaders.