Now that our oldest son is 26, I have the luxury of looking back at the things I did right and the (many) things I would have done differently. With fairly large age-gaps between our three sons (aged 26, 20 and 11), I am fortunate to be able to take this wisdom and put it into practice with the youngest son.
Setting expectations is a family affair
One of the luxuries of having such age gaps is that I can see that there are certain actions a parent can do to can make or break an event.
Our oldest and youngest sons are very similar. Everything our youngest son (age 11) does—from the way he tackles nightly homework to the way he interacts socially with his peers—mirrors the actions of our oldest son (age 26) when he was younger.
One "parenting tip" I have learned is to set expectations around nearly everything—from weekend plans to family vacations to outings with friends.
I set the scene, explain WHO will be there, WHAT will be going on and WHEN the event is to begin. This has made the difference in how the event is approached and, hence, received.
The "Best Day Ever" Syndrome
I have to admit, the boys come by this naturally. I have always been the girl who, once a plan is made, daydreams about how "totally awesome" it is going to be and how every aspect of the day/event/plan will go. In my mind's eye, every date and outing is an opportunity to be the best day ever.
Let's be honest here though. Not EVERY planned event is going to be "mind blowing." Fun? Sure. A positive experience? Absolutely. But the ultimate playdate? Probably not. So, this is where expectation setting comes into play.
Here are a few ways I manage and set my child's (sometimes unrealistic) expectations:
1. Include them in the planning of the event, play date or outing.
If you are planning an event at your home, for example a New Year's Eve Party, let your child help with the decor setup (this is a great opportunity to talk about #2). Once old enough, have your child call and make his own play date (you can talk to the other parent afterward to set up rides and times).
2. Tell them who will be there, what the purpose of the event or outing is about.
For example, if you are heading to your nephew's 3rd birthday, let your 11 year old know that there will likely be a lot of little kids there and that the focus is on the birthday boy and no one else. Make sure to remind him that once his birthday comes along the focus will then be on him.
3. I found that full disclosure of time expectations is a must.
If I bring the kids to a family wedding and tell them we will be there for a few hours, in their little heads that means 2 hours...MAX. Not usually the case. Once the 2 hour timer buzzes, the game is over. Everyone is anxious. The kids because "Mom said we were only going to be here for 2 hours." Me because everyone is whining to leave. Set the realistic expectation, no matter how long the event is going to truly last...be honest. It will pay off in the end.
I (always) get by with a little help from my friends
In my experience, setting these expectations helps everyone involved. What sort of "tips" have you found that make your day-to-day a little easier? Share them with us below.
One additional tip along these lines is the infamous "are we there yet" question we all hear far too often. To make the car rides/trips more enjoyable for everyone, download our list of 47 car games. You'll thank us. We promise.