Realistic Expectations


Do you ever over react?

Knowing your child’s developmental process and capabilities makes it easier to know what is realistic and what is not.  Understanding this will help you naturally react appropriately.  Not always…but certainly sometimes.

Finding the right balance between high enough expectations so your child achieves and grows in self worth versus having unrealistic expectations which results in frustration for parents and shame for the child can be very stressful.

The suggestions below are some guidelines from a child psychologist.  These are realistic expectations for most children.  Of course common sense is needed to ensure the child is safe and there is supervision when necessary.

3-Years old

  • Pick up unused toys and put in proper place
  • Put books and magazines in rack
  • Carry plates and cutlery to the table
  • Clean up what they drop after eating
  • Clear own place at the table
  • Simple hygiene – brush teeth, wash and dry hands and face, brush hair.
  • Undress self; dress with some help
  • Wipe up own accidents
  • Carry boxed or canned goods after shopping and help put them away.

4-Years Old

  • Set the table – with good dishes too, with some help
  • Help put away groceries
  • Help with grocery shopping under close supervision
  • Help feed pets
  • Help do easy garden work
  • Help make the beds
  • With help, wash dishes
  • Dust furniture
  • Spread butter on sandwiches
  • Prepare own breakfast cereal
  • Help make simple dessert
  • Bring in the milk
  • Hang socks, handkerchiefs on low washing line.
  • Help mix cake mixtures
  • Play without constant adult supervision and attention

5-Years Old

  • Help with meal planning and shopping
  • Make own sandwich or breakfast and clean up afterwards
  • Pour own drink
  • Set dinner table
  • Tear lettuce for salad
  • Put in certain ingredients to a recipe
  • Make bed and clean room
  • Dress self and choose outfit for the day
  • Scrub sink and bath after use
  • Clean mirrors and windows (if they are low enough)
  • Put dirty washing in clothes basket
  • Fold clean clothes and put them away
  • Answer the telephone
  • Help in the garden
  • Pay for small purchases
  • Help clean the car
  • Help take out the rubbish
  • Feed own pet and clean pet’s living area.
  • Tie first stage of shoe laces

6-Years old

  • Choose own clothing according to the weather or special event
  • Water plants and flowers
  • Peel vegetables
  • Cook simple food (toast, boiled egg etc.)
  • Prepare own packed lunch for school
  • Help hang clothes on washing line
  • Rake leaves and weeds
  • Tie own shoes
  • Responsible for own minor injuries
  • Set and clear the table

7-Years Old

  • Oil and care for bike
  • Take phone messages and write them down
  • Carry in the groceries
  • Train pets
  • Get self to bed at night and up in the morning without being told
  • Carry own lunch money to school
  • Leave the bathroom in order, hang up clean towels
  • Do simple ironing, flat pieces
  • Scrub floors.

8-9 Years Old

  • Mop the floor
  • Help re-arrange the furniture
  • Run own bath water
  • Straighten own wardrobe and clothes drawers
  • Shop and select own clothes with parent’s assistance
  • Change school clothes without being told
  • Sew buttons
  • Begin to read and cook recipes for the family
  • Pick fruit off trees
  • Paint fence or shelves
  • Write simple thank-you notes
  • Help with defrosting the fridge
  • Feed the baby
  • Bathe younger sister/brother
  • Polish silverware etc.
  • Dust and polish furniture

9-10 Years Old

  • Change sheets on the bed, put dirty linen in basket
  • Operate the washing machine
  • Buy groceries using a list
  • Cross street unassisted
  • Keep own appointments
  • Prepare a family meal
  • Make tea/coffee
  • Be able to apply simple first aid
  • Be able to do simple sewing
  • Wash the family car
  • Learn to bank and be thrifty

10-11 Years Old

  • Earn own money doing jobs for neighbours etc.
  • Handle sums of money responsibly
  • Be able to take bus
  • Be responsible for a personal hobby

Let grow is a website campaigning for children’s independence.  Research shows that children have less anxiety and depression, the more independent they are allowed to be.

Realistic Emotional Development and Expected Behaviours

The following are excerpts from John Gottman’s book, ‘The Heart of Parenting’.

1 -3 years old

Autonomy begins. “No!”, “Mine!”, “Do by myself!” is the attitude of assertiveness growing from a desire to be independent.   Also known as the terrible twos.  The best way to handle this is to give little but real choices, e.g.  “You can choose.  A jumper or a coat?”

Toddler rules of ownership.

1) If I see it, it’s mine!

2) If it’s yours and I want it, it’s mine!

3) If it’s mine, it’s mine forever!

The concept of sharing is meaningless at this age, however this provides the perfect opportunity to start emotion coaching.

4 – 7 years old

At this age children begin to face expectations e.g. sitting still, paying attention, sharing, solving problems, understanding others feelings, getting along, comprehending dangers and fears, like house fires, burglars, death etc.

The best ways for children to master their emotions and learn to cope with these expectations is through one on one play dates and fantasy play.

Play dates – One on one is important because at this age you cannot handle more than one relationship at a time e.g. “Go away, your not our friend anymore.” Or “Daddy I don’t love you anymore.  I only love mummy!”

Once again there is an opportunity to emotion coach if they are the one who gets hurt, or teach social graces if they are the one doing the hurting.

Fantasy play – this is a great way for accessing suppressed feelings, finding ways to solve problems and dealing with fears.

Common fears at this age: Powerlessness, abandonment, the dark, nightmares, parental conflict and death.

8 – 12 years old

Awareness of peer influence begins and the main goal is to avoid embarrassment at all costs. Conformity is healthy at this age.  It means they can read social cues, a skill they will need in life.

Children perform a sort of ‘emotion-ectomy’.  They revel in a world of logic and reason e.g.  if you ask a 9 year old boy to pick up his socks, you may have a response like this.  He may lift up each sock and then put it down in its place again explaining, “You didn’t tell me to put them away!”

This is a time for thinking and exploring for themselves.  Sassiness, sarcasm, and contempt for adult values are normal tendencies of middle childhood.

The best way to handle it is mostly, let it go.  As always emotion coach.  Validate all their feelings, don’t trivialize them.  Be their ally.  Limit bad behaviour and teach social graces. They need to feel emotionally connected to their parents at this age.


Who am I? What am I becoming? Who should I be?  This is the age where at some point the child seems to be totally self-absorbed.  Relationships with friends take center stage.  After all it is through friendships that they discover who they are outside the confines of their home.  At this point in life, a teenager’s primary goal must be achieving autonomy.

“Until this point you have acted as a ‘manager’ in your child’s life: arranging rides and doctors appointments, planning outside or weekend activities, helping with and checking on homework.  You stay closely informed about school life, and you are usually the first person your child seeks out with the ‘big’ questions.  Suddenly, none of this is applicable.  Without notification and without consensus, you are fired from this role as manager.  Now you must scramble and re-strategize; if you are to have a meaningful influence in your teenager’s life through adolescence and beyond, then you must work your tail off to get re-hired as a consultant.”   Michael Riera

What can we do.

  • Accept that adolescence is a time for children to separate from their parents.
  • Show respect for your teenager. Avoid teasing, criticism and humiliation.  Communicate values briefly.  Don’t lecture or preach.
  • Provide your child with a community that shares your ethics and ideals. “It takes a whole village to raise a child(teenager)
  • Encourage independent decision making while continuing to be your child’s emotion coach.