Great Expectations

stressedkidMy dad still thinks I’m going to be an engineer someday.

Not the train-driving kind (although that would be sort of awesome), but the building things/solving problems/inventing stuff kind.

I enjoy writing, reading, working with kids and helping people, interests which relate to engineering in approximately zero ways. As I’ve mentioned before, I still have nightmares about math class, and I liked my physics and chemistry classes even less. Plus, I’m 35 years old with two children and a fully loaded schedule, so I’m not exactly a prime candidate for a return to college life.

engdummiesAnd yet, my dad continues to opine, “I still think you’d make a great engineer, Ang.” The man is completely delusional.

I get a little weary of pulling out my standard response: “Dad, I’d make a terrible engineer. I hate math. I hate science. Remember?” And it’s painful to watch the doubt and hurt cross his face as he contemplates my terse answer. I know it’s sweet that he’s convinced of my genius, nice that he still believes I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. Heck, if your parents don’t think you’re amazing, odds are nobody ever will.

It’s important for parents to believe in their kids. As the authors of a recent article from the American Psychological Association state, we’ve known for some time that children tend to achieve more when their parents have high expectations for them. According to the University of Minnesota Extension page on partnering for school success, this happens because parents with high expectations are often more supportive and involved with their child’s school and schoolwork, and because the children tend to adopt their parents’ beliefs that they can succeed, among other reasons.

Here’s one kid who says his parents’ expectations have helped him succeed:

It seems that this student’s family found an effective way to communicate their high expectations for their son. But sometimes parents can hope for too much.

In the APA article, the authors also report findings that parents who have unrealistic aspirations or over-aspirations can actually harm their children’s chances for success. Over-aspirations occur when parents want their children to achieve more than they actually expect their children can achieve. In this situation, parents are essentially driving their children to achieve the impossible.

At this point, the research hasn’t answered exactly why over-aspirations can be harmful, but the authors posit that excessive parental control or parental over-involvement could be factors. In other words, parents may be smothering children in an effort to help them achieve beyond their means. This, in turn, can lead to a decreased sense of self-efficacy among the children, who may start to believe they can’t do anything for themselves. In addition, the authors suggest that over-aspirations may lead to increased anxiety and frustration in children, because they are unable to meet the expectations set for them, regardless of their effort.

happyschoolSo what does this mean for parents and educators?

It means that we need to continue to have high expectations for our children and students. If we believe they can succeed, they will be more likely to succeed. But it also means we need to temper our hopes and dreams, that we need to ensure our aspirations are attainable and realistic.

So I guess I should stop expecting my 2nd-grader to speak fluent Spanish after a few weekly classes in the subject. I might need to pull back on my ungainly four-year-old’s early admission application for the Julliard dance program. And I definitely have to tell my dad that I’ll become an engineer when the proverbial pigs fly.

Additional related info: