Set Up to Succeed

water smocks at museum

Our local museum helps parents have appropriate expectations by providing water smocks that remind parents, “Yes, your child will get wet.”

Expectations are so important in relationships. When our expectations aren’t met, we get angry, frustrated, and disappointed. I often wonder how much my inaccurate expectations of my son lead me to anger and frustration. Yes, I am disappointed by his actions and upset by his defiance or apparent disobedience, but perhaps it is my own fault that I have not set him up for success.

Having age-appropriate expectations for our little ones can really help us to avoid many confrontations and keep us from experiencing anger, which therefore negates the need to try to decide what to do with that anger. When my son has different plans than what I’d like for him or I perceive him as being defiant and disobedient, I often get frustrated, wondering what method of discipline will “work” in this or that situation. However, when I step back, take a deep breath, and more closely examine the situation, many times I find that it was my own expectations of him that were the problem in that moment.

One example of this was awhile back when I met a friend to do some shopping. We both had children with us, but mine, being older and mobile, was difficult to contain. He shopped along well with us for the most part, and then we decided to take a coffee break in the cafe at the store. Buying my son a little treat, I hoped he’d sit still long enough for my friend and me to have a conversation. He only sat still long enough to eat his treat and then began to wander around the cafe. The initial wandering was fine as he was staying within my view, but soon he was dashing toward the door that led outside and I had to excuse myself several times mid-conversation to go get him and bring him back to the table where he’d be safe and where I had asked him to stay. Frustrated and angry, I decided it best that we pack up and leave.

What was I angry about? That my son was not listening and obeying? That I couldn’t do what I wanted to do (finish a conversation with my friend)? As I was pondering how the situation could’ve been ideally handled and what applicable consequence he could receive or what action I could take in the future should this happen again (when it happens again), I came to the realization that the thing that needed to happen was an adjustment of my expectations. Why did I expect a two-year-old to sit at a table and listen to two grown women chat over coffee? Why would that be appealing to him or even within his cognitive understanding and ability at this age? Had I not pushed him past his limits as a curious toddler by attempting to make him sit as an adult woman would, we would have avoided anger, frustration, having to leave in a huff, and both of us being upset.

So, when I came home and told my husband that I was angry that our son was not “behaving,” I realized that I was not setting my son up to behave at all. I was not setting him up for success, but for failure. I was asking something of him that is not only within his desires (which is okay at times; we all have to learn to do things we don’t want to do sometimes), but this goal was not within his ability according to his development.

As I reflected on this idea, I noted many other instances throughout our days and weeks that I could consciously choose to set my child up for success. Being aware of what he is capable of as well as giving him the knowledge, tools, and practice to learn new skills, means I can set us both up for success rather than failure. He will learn, I can avoid some instances of frustration and anger, and we can both grow from these little daily experiences in new ways.

In what ways are you intentional about setting your kids up for success?


Adrienne is a first-time mom to her mellow sweetie-pie, Burkley. Carrying her natural lifestyle over into her role of mother was a common-sense transition for this former elementary school teacher turned crunchy-mama. Research is her passion, and her friends and family know that she is almost always ready with a stash of resources bookmarked to answer any of their natural parenting questions. While she admits to being on the computer more than she should be, she has been happily adjusting to her new life as a stay-at-home mom after moving back home to the Quad Cities (along the Mississippi River) from Chicago, by spending time with her family and newly found mom-friends. She is currently saving up money to become a certified postpartum doula. You can find Adrienne at Mommying My Way.

2 Responses to Set Up to Succeed

  1. Ashley Allman

    This is such a great reminder! Setting appropriate expectations is one of my mantras, but even still, I often forget the importance of maintaining appropriate expectations with my sons. It can be so hard! Thanks for writing this – always love to get these little reminders from other moms in the same boat 🙂

    • Adrienne Anderson

      Thanks, Ashley! I’m with you, it’s always great to resonate with other moms. And there’s always a learning curve with parenting–I too find myself forgetting to abide by this principle from time to time!