Classic Signs You Are Expecting Too Much From Your Child

Reviewed by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Hayley Vaughan Smith, Person Centred Counsellor and The Ridge Practice and Everlief Child Psychology
Author: Hayley Vaughan-Smith, Person-Centred Counsellor

It’s natural for parents’ expectations of our children to be ambitious, and having high expectations can be beneficial for their growth and development. 

However, it’s important to ensure any expectations are realistic and developmentally appropriate. Unrealistic expectations can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and low self-worth for both parent and child.

Might you be expecting too much from your child? 

It’s great to have high standards around the important things and children often thrive on goals and targets and a bit of healthy competition!

However, if we don’t accurately assess our child’s abilities and expect them to do things that are beyond their capability or capacity, the risk is we judge and punish them for such things according to our set expectations.

This article explores how to learn the signs that you might be expecting too much from your child and what you can do to manage your expectations and how to help your child understand them.

a happy dad with his arm around his tween son

Expecting Too Much From School Age Children

Learning about the development stages of your child can really help you to understand what they might be capable of.

Having unrealistically high expectations of your children of school age can have negative consequences on their well-being and development and can lead to them having low self-esteem

So, it’s important to give young children guidance that will help them grow and develop, but without undue or consistent pressure.

Lots of parents can fall into a trap of micro-managing their little kids where they have a perceived ‘best way’ or ‘right way’ of managing their child’s behaviour

Picking up on little things such as not wearing matching socks or hanging clothes on the ‘right’ peg can be a sign of what I call overparenting.

At school your child will be asked to follow lots of rules and stick to timings, all in a pretty structured and frame worked way. 

It’s really good for them to decompress when they get home and have non-school oriented activities to look forward to.

For example:

  • Craft time
  • TV or games console time
  • Baking
  • Classes or group hobbies
a mother and teen girl having an argument

Expecting Too Much From Your Child: Education

A child’s development is unique to them, but as parents we often look to others for reference and measure and mould our expectations according to educational and social norms.

Schools constantly monitor and measure a child’s abilities and as parents, we prepare ourselves for the parents evening or end of school term reports. 

  • What will they say about your child?
  • What areas do you focus on?  Attainment, achievement, effort, happiness, coping?

For an older child at elementary school or middle school, this can sometimes feel like pressure.  Academic performance is monitored and assessed and reported back to parents and they may fear disappointing you if expectations are set too high.

I would encourage lots of conversations with your child through the term, not just when a report or review is due. This will give you both a really good sense of how they are coping and any areas they might need more support with.

a son studying at a desk and having a disagreement with his mother

Expecting Too Much From Teens

Expecting too much from your child as a teenager can place undue pressure on them and sometimes lead to serious consequences.  For example: mental health problems, self doubt, self sabotage and disengagement from school and social life or even burn-out.

Helicopter parenting is characterized by an over-involvement in your child’s life, often to the point of micromanaging them and applying excessive control. A helicopter parent will often apply a high level of attention to a child’s activities, decisions and problems.

I’m not suggesting you take no interest. Rather, it’s important for parents to strike a balance between setting reasonable expectations and allowing their teenager to explore and find out about life for themselves and enable them to develop a sense of self-worth.

Here are 3 signs of possible overparenting:

  1. Academic Overload. Kids want to achieve good grades through high school, and parents often become part of the driving force to reach goals. Remember, your child has expectations set for them and will be tracked and monitored throughout their educational career.

Your role as a parent is to support and guide your teenager

Be alert to any signs that your child is feeling pressured and heading towards academic overload. 

Signs might include:  fatigue, anxiety, withdrawal, isolating, low-mood and over criticising themselves.

  • Limited Social Time. If you expect your teenager to focus solely on their education, this could impact their social life.  Having friends and being connected is just as valuable as learning academically and having a balance, will contribute to better success in both areas.
  • Lack of Personal Time. Teenagers often use social media as a good reason to decompress or have down time.  Whilst it’s important to have boundaries and a mutual understanding of how much time is reasonable to spend on their devices, try not to limit or over-manage their use. If you are asking lots of questions and constantly looking over their shoulder you risk them becoming secretive and less open.


​Expecting Too Much From Young Adult Children

Expecting too much from young adult children can put a strain on the parent-child relationship.  

They have some big life changes and decisions ahead of them and whilst young people do need to have support around and available to them, they also need to make their own choices and own and learn from their mistakes.

In my experience of raising 3 teenage and adult daughters, I have found that stepping back, (but being a safety net for them when they need one) has been the best way to allow them the space to make good decisions. Ongoing pressure and expectation at school did not need adding to by me!

It often felt incongruent, but allowing the teen, college student and university undergraduate to apply their own hard work ethic and judgment has been far more empowering for them than me managing them every step of the way.

a mother looking concerned as her daughter learns to ride a bike

Case Study: Expecting Too Much From Our Children and Striking a Parental Balance

Mr and Mrs Marten are driven by their own successful careers and place a strong emphasis on achievement and excellence. Until recently their 10 year old daughter Naomi has been enrolled in lots of classes and activities including dancing which she enjoyed with her best friend Janey. 

However, following a couple of calls home from her form tutor about recent poor behaviour, along with a disappointing school report, Naomi’s parents stopped her dance classes in favour of spending time on her academic studies and extra home tutoring.

Naomi’s teachers at school have noticed that she is displaying negative behaviours such as defiance and isn’t handing her home tasks finished or on time. They have also observed that she is unusually quiet in class.

Naomi’s parents, concerned about her academic development, have been pushing Naomi to excel in her studies. They have unwittingly neglected her social and emotional needs by withdrawing things that Naomi loves and thrives on doing.

Naomi has started to show signs of stress and anxiety. She keeps waking up in the middle of the night and seems to have low expectations of herself demonstrated by some defeatist self-language and regular self-criticism.

Understanding Naomi’s Difficulties

The primary cause of Naomi’s distress is the high expectations of her parents.

Not unlike other parents, the Martens want their daughter to meet her potential and succeed in life.

However, they have overlooked the need for balance in Naomi’s life where her emotional, social and educational needs are meet. They had not realised the negative impact the withdrawal of her creative activities would have on Naomi.

Making a Plan Together

The family sit down to talk things through and understand how Naomi is feeling and why she is finding school difficult currently.

Naomi feels that she can’t keep up with everything that is expected from her at school and how her parents expect her to approach her studies. 

With guidance from Naomi’s form tutor, her parents re-evaluate their expectations of Naomi so that they can look at her overall development, not just her academic achievements.

Some adjustments are made to the home calendar so that Naomi can start back at one of her dance classes with a view to expanding if she feels she can manage more alongside her school work. 

At school, Naomi has been assigned a buddy from the senior school and is being helped in the classroom by the TA when she needs more time to understand instructions. Naomi knows that she can go to her form tutor is she is finding things tough.

a little girl at a dance class

How to Manage Your Expectations of Your Child

Good parenting is a continuous learning experience and making slight adjustments of your expectations can have far reaching affects in the long term.

You can still maintain expectations while promoting positive mental health in children. 

So, if you think you are expecting too much from your child, how can you adjust your expectations? 

Here are some ways to consider:

  • Recognise individual differences. Embrace and celebrate their individuality.
  • Don’t measure your child against others, including siblings.
  • Celebrate and acknowledge the big and small achievements.
  • Be patient and flexible.  Stay aligned to your child’s ever evolving abilities.
  • If your child is displaying negative behavior, find out why.
  • Focus on effort and improvement, not just attainment. 
  • Always set realistic goals in line with their development.
  • Seek a balance between supporting them and challenging them.

A child will be learning from you from the day they are born. Their parent’s behaviors are ones that they will replicate and emulate. 

It’s important therefore, that you are exemplars of what you expect of them. If you ask them to make their bed every morning, do yours too!

Expecting Too Much From Your Child: Summary & Conclusions

All parents would like their child to reach their full potential and our parental expectations play a significant role in shaping and supporting our children’s development. These must be realistic, as unreasonable expectations can lead to negative consequences.

By setting unattainably high expectations, your child may be at a greater risk of developing mental health issues stemming from stress, pressure, fear of failure or low self-esteem.

So, if you are expecting too much from your child, take time to reflect, talk and work out what is ‘enough’ and whether you ideally need to make some adjustments in order to support them to thrive.

Related Articles

How To Help Your Teenager Find Their Passion

Assertive Parenting: The Incredible Benefits for Your Child

Why Supportive Parenting is Key to Child Mental Health

Psychologist’s Guide to a Happy Family Life [+ Free Happiness Challenge PDF]

How Much Freedom Should You Give Your Teenager?

Hayley Vaughan Smith is a Person Centred Counsellor accredited by the National Counselling Society. She is the founder and counsellor at The Ridge Practice in Buckinghamshire, and Counsellor at Everlief Child Psychology.

Hayley has a special interest in bereavement counselling and has worked as a bereavement volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care since 2019. Being a mum to 3 girls is hard work and rewarding in equal measure and gardening and walking in nature is her own personal therapy – Hayley believes being in nature, whatever the weather, is incredibly beneficial for mental health well-being.

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