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Recently, Haruki Murakami started an advice column on his personal website. One of the questions was about motivating kids. Here is what Murakami replied:

When a parent's expectations for children are large, it becomes a burden for children.

-- link for those who know Japanese and for those who don't.

Is this true? Can a parent's (good willed) expectations for their child burden the latter?

  • Just curious: have you ever heard of the book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua? – anongoodnurse Feb 21 '15 at 3:34
  • @anongoodnurse nope, never – Shevliaskovic Feb 21 '15 at 8:22
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This can certainly be true if the parent is what we call a "pushy parent" forcing the child to attend lessons or training in things they do not enjoy, for the purpose of meeting the parent's hopes rather than what the child wants.

That said, parents with high self motivation can pass this behaviour on to their children through demonstrating such behaviour and being encouraging rather than pushy, so don't be afraid to hold high hopes for your children, after all, we all want the best for our offspring.

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Absolutely. This depends on the child, of course, as some are more interested in pleasing the parent than others; but it is not uncommon for a child to feel the weight of expectations. I would guess that nearly every child feels some happiness in meeting or exceeding parental expectations, and feels some sadness at not meeting those expectations, though certainly some feel both much more than others.

There are two major ways in which expectations can be problematic.

  • Expectations that are difficult to achieve can lead a child to attempt to achieve those beyond where they ought. Different children are able to achieve different things, and if you expect your child to be a master violin player, for example, and he simply isn't all that good at violin, it can be frustrating for him that he can't live up to your expectation. Sometimes this is thought of as being used to encourage someone to work harder, and it may; but it also may force them to work harder than is appropriate, at the cost of other important things.

  • Expectations that do not line up with the child's desires may be a source of friction and stress. If you expect your daughter to be successful financially, but she would rather be a stay at home mom, for example, that may be a source of friction. Expecting a child to be good at the violin when he's not interested in music, same. Parents often use expectations to attempt to modify the actions or preferences of the child, but that's a very risky business when it's not something like 'I expect you to do the dishes once a week', but is something at a higher level, such as life choices.

From my experience (mostly as a child and a friend, but starting to see as a parent as well) expectations are inevitable, and despite the good will of a parent will be difficult to navigate. Many of those expectations are unspoken or unintentional; your child may feel an expectation of being successful academically despite you not feeling that way, but comes from you regularly talking about the value of a good education. Being careful to discuss your explicit expectations and being understanding and cognizant of any potential for unspoken or implicit expectations is an important aspect of parenthood, particularly as your children age and become more able to make their own choices.

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That article looks like a brief summary or something. I'm sure his actual thoughts on the subject stem much further than a single quote.

Consider though - You may remember much from your childhood. It might not be too difficult to connect your current behavior to some parental behavior or environmental condition in youth. Abusive kids are probably much more likely to be abusive, and so on.

Having large expectations for your kids is probably not a bad thing so long as you don't force your expectations on them harshly. Like smacking their hands with a ruler if they mess up on the piano. You know that likely won't translate well in their later years.

I like to believe my daughter is much smarter than most kids her age. Most parents probably think that of their kids. But my expectations of them aren't pushed on them like the angry dad in that movie "shine" but more like blowing up their achievements with expressions of amazement. When my 4 year old writes her name I act like she just solved cold fusion or something and she gets all excited about it. When she messes up I just tone down the excitement a little and try to guide her on how to do it correctly. I think my exaggerations give her the goal to excel instead of the fear not to.

I don't know if I'm right to do this. For all I know I'm causing just as much harm and later in life she may wonder what she's doing wrong when people don't crap their pants just because she aced an exam or mastered vegan cooking. I just approach it by thinking - would I like this as a kid. Sometimes they make you so mad it's hard to maintain that, but for the most part I try to project my expectations on them in a fun way, and keep the disappointments as un-menacing as possible.

  • I think to some extent you're conflating expectation with praise/rewards. There could be a very interesting but separate discussion on the latter; the short answer is, the generally recommended strategy is praising effort, not success, as praising success both encourages a results-based approach to life that is not necessarily always healthy, and establishes expectations of success (versus expectations of trying). I guess the latter part of that is on topic on this question, though... – Joe Feb 20 '15 at 23:09
  • @joe - In a way perhaps, but I tend to work with her on things I expect of her so my exaggerated responses tend to be associated with things we're working on, like reading and writing. Praising efforts and success happen naturally because I am happy about both, so it's not false in any way, just perhaps a little like a cartoon. And I can see why that might not be the best approach. I'm willing to take that risk though. – Kai Qing Feb 20 '15 at 23:14
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Yes. This is the plot to many movies.

Having extremely large expectations with a child can go different ways depending on the child but either way it becomes a burden.

It disenchants their lives and own aspirations and dreams and goals to set them on a self-sacrificing mission to please their parents.

While all parents have dreams for their children to succeed, when the expectations become overbearing it can appear to the child that their parents love is conditional upon succeeding in these expectations.

This has the potential to cause depression, suicidal ideologies. Should the child rebel against these expectations not only is there potential to be bad for their well-being, they also may get a later start in life because they will have a late start in realizing their own dreams and thus reraising themselves from scratch to achieve these goals.

There is a book called SELF-ESTEEM, ASPIRATIONS AND EXPECTATIONS OF ADOLESCENTS WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITY

Which examines the differences between expectations of disabled and body-enabled children where they found there was a significant negative correlation for the able-bodied children with high expectations.

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