How to Set Clear Expectations for Kids
Give Simple Instructions Verbally I will often go through a list of what needs to happen when we enter the house or go into a new situation.These might become repetitive, but soon they will be engrained. For example, as we are driving up to the house at night I usually say, “When we go inside, take off your shoes and put them in a cubby. Hang up your jackets and head to the bathroom to brush your teeth. Who thinks they can do all three of those things without being reminded.” When going to a store I might say, “We are only going to do a one finger touch today. Do we run? (Kids respond) Do we yell? (Kids respond). We are also only going to buy what is on our list.” Prepping kids with these simple instructions before entering a situation sets up clear guidelines that are easy to follow. It is most helpful if you can do these instructions with a positive energy.
Set Routines Putting routines in place helps kids anticipate a rhythm within your home. They come home from school. If they know that there is a snack and 30 minutes of down time, homework time, play, clean-up, baths and then dinner, the structure helps then know what to expect next. This is very helpful with children struggling with autism, but I believe it can help most kids because it does set clear expectations. There will be times to be flexible with schedule, and this is really important to teach as well.
Define Simple Family Rules These rules should layout your basic rules within your family. These can be displayed for everyone to see. Don’t make the list too long and wordy. I like this simple list found at Chores and Checklists. We say, “We have loving words, loving hands, loving actions.” This “rule” covers over a multitude of sins. I’ve wanted to create a visual reminder piece of art like the one found at A Bowl Full of Simple. When a child disobeys a rule, you can point back to the simple list. “You just took that from your brother, were those loving actions?”
Bring it Back to the Bible What does God say about this? Have scriptures ready that relate to the different “rules of the house.” We want to get to our children’s hearts. Our ultimate expectation list is set by God. Remember to emphasize grace and their heart condition rather than the outward behaviors. We just want our kids to see that there is ultimate authority on these topics.
Make Chore Charts You want your chores charts set with clear expectations. Cleaning up my room? What does that look like. You might want a check list like this:
~ Make Bed
~ Dirty Clothes in Hamper
~ Clean Clothes FOLDED and put away
~ Toys in Correct Spots
I actually have made a printable for room cleaning expectations with pictures to help littler kids. This is found in a previous post I wrote about teaching kids to be diligent.
Keep consistent This is hard. I know I get lazy. There needs to be consistent consequence for poor behavior and reward for good behavior. Being consistent is so important in parenting and helps kids anticipate a cause and effect relationship. If your consequences are blurry, your expectations will seem blurry.
Make a Contract This is a great option for older kids where they need to sign and agree to expectations. Breaking the contract will have consequences. Keep it simple and clear.
Reward, Reward, Reward Know that their good behavior will result in positive reinforcement and compliments. These rewards don’t need to be extravagant. They can be extra one-on-one time (ideal), extra screen time, stickers, outings (think park or family bike ride), or just a lot of praise and compliments. Anything you add into their lives that build them up will show that following clear expectations yields positive results.
Teach Kids the Heart Behind Your Expectations Kids will respond much better if they know the love and concern behind your methods. I have tried to avoid phrases like, “Because I said so.” Yes, kids need to learn to obey because you said so, but you will find it much more effective if you establish there are reasons for your expectations. “I want you to finish this quickly so we can have more time to play.” “I don’t want anything bad to happen to you, so I have to say no.”