After returning from winter break, our kids had some issues waking up in the morning for school. If you are a parent or work with any child, you’ve probably seen this as well. A child’s brain loves routine, it gives them a sense of safety. But they also learn from the unexpected, because it teaches the brain flexibility. There’s an innate push and pull between expectations and flexibility.
Why Expectations Matter
Clear expectations help a child know what to expect. They can anticipate what is next, which gives a sense of safety and control. As well, it shows them that adults are in charge. If a child feels they have to rely on their own limited understanding, it causes confusion and behavioral issues. This is because they aren’t exactly sure how to do something right. They often find that they get in trouble for something they didn’t understand. This is because the parent hasn’t clarified expectations. So for a morning routine, creating a basic checklist or chart of expectations can quickly change the child’s negative behavior. If we think, “They already know that” it’s just not true, you usually can’t overstate your expectations.
Why Flexibility Matters
However, there are numerous elements that affect a child that are completely out of their control. Are they tired or hungry? Is their brain going through new growth? Is something causing them stress? Further, a purely rigid schedule can cause children to explore less. They may begin to fear making a mistake and stop taking appropriate risks. For example, highly intelligent children may not push their academic limits because they fear not getting good grades. Flexibility helps a child build creativity, fun, and keep the innate presentness in life.
Why Expectations + Flexibility = Balance
Most parents fall on one side of the fence or the other. They naturally set clear expectations but struggle with flexibility or they are flexible and have a tough time setting limits. Frequently one parent will be on one side and the other parent will be on the opposite. Healthy parents will try to each add their own side to create a balance. However, in most cases, the parents will think their way it correct. For example:
“Things would be so much easier if we just structured our schedule.”
“Kids needs down time to be creative.”
But in reality, the best parenting is a mixture that values clear expectations and flexibility. This is because kids need structure and to understand what is expected from them. As well, they also need adults that foster creativity, flexibility, and seeing situations as unique.
For most parents, this is a challenge, so taking small steps towards the areas you struggle, while also optimizing your natural inclinations will help. So as kids get back on their sleep schedules, make sure they know what you expect, while also having some flexibility.
Joseph Sanok is the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling, a downtown Traverse City counseling practice. They are accepting new families that want to grow closer to one another, 231-714-0282 ext. 0.