How to Set Clear and Realistic Expectations for Your Children

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Let’s say that you have planned a fun day out with your kids. You imagine everyone enjoying themselves and appreciating you, their loving mother for planning this wonderful day. In reality, you are scrambling to get everyone out the door looking presentable. You get to your destination and your kids go wild, running in separate directions. This leaves you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

As a mom with multiple small children, I get it. When they outnumber you it’s difficult to get everyone to obey and listen all the time. I have however learned that if I do one simple thing, my kids have an easier time staying calm in these situations.

By setting the rules and expectations before we do something, whether in the home or outside of the home, my children seem to behave better.  It won’t go perfectly, but it may help.  As moms, we will take all of the help we can get!

First off, we must communicate with our children.

Let them know what’s going on and what you are doing. If it’s going somewhere fun or exciting, we usually wait to tell our children until that morning so that we can avoid the, “is it time to go yet?” question 5,296 times. Explaining the plan for the day and each step of what we will do, gets their mind’s going. They begin to look forward to going somewhere, and it gives us the opportunity to set a schedule that we can share with them.


For example, if you are planning a trip to the zoo, your child might be obsessed with the tigers, and that’s what she wants to see right away when you get there. You can avoid a silly tantrum by simply going over the map of the zoo when you first arrive. Explain to her that she is to be patient and enjoy all of the other animals on the way to the tigers. Talk with her about all of the other animals she will get to see on the way and act excited about it. This will encourage her to be excited as well, instead of so focused on getting her way.

Go over expected behavior.

We all know that kids will misbehave no matter what standards we have set. But, if we make them aware of the kind of behavior that we expect, it can have a positive effect.  I have seen this with my three and four-year-old multiple times.

If I take them to the grocery store and do not communicate or go over how I expect for them to act, then it usually ends in a worn out mama and two crazy kids running around the store. When I take the time to explain that I expect for them to practice self-control and to be considerate of other people in the store, it encourages them to do what is right.


Be clear and don’t let them manipulate the situation.

I’m currently reading The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst and this quote stood out to me as I’m writing this post.

“Early on, expectations and disappointments can be managed better with a small no. But the more we let things develop and progress, the harder the no becomes.” -Lysa TerKeurst

Have you ever struggled to tell your kids no? You know in your head that the answer is no, but you avoid saying it to your children because you’re afraid they will lose their minds and throw a fit. We must be straight forward with what is expected or our children will begin to manipulate us. They are little but smart and pick up on how easily it is to change our minds if we begin to avoid confrontation and go the easy way instead of simply saying no.

Our little ones need our guidance. They can’t grow or blossom without our wisdom and teaching. God has given us the opportunity to reach their hearts and mold their character to be successful but most importantly, to honor God.

Read more about my thoughts on biblical discipline here.

Set realistic expectations.

Our children are not perfect and even when we feel like we’ve done everything right, they will still fail us. We can never expect perfection or a life free from chaos. Being a mother is messy and difficult but we must keep going forward. When you set rules and standards for your kids, make sure that you keep them realistic for their age.

I can’t rely on my three-year-old to understand why she can’t strip down in our front yard but I can communicate that I expect her to wait until we get inside to change her clothes.  We must take into consideration their personality and age when it comes to setting expectations, then go from there.


The bottom line is it’s important that we set expectations at some level with our parenting. Our kids desire the structure or discipline, and I know it’s hard to believe sometimes, but they actually enjoy pleasing us. They love to do what is right but we just have to push them into the right direction and encourage them along the way.

Don’t give up on your kids, mamas. Don’t allow yourself to think that you can’t take them in public because of their behavior. Commit to train them, teach them manners and self-control, and reward them with positive affection when they do the right thing. Sometimes they just need us to praise them and be their cheerleaders.

I want to encourage you today to commit in your parenting. To follow God’s calling for your life as a mom and to not grow weary while doing it. Keep going with a smile on your face and know that God has created you to be their mama.  He is entrusted you to guide them in the right direction.  For more on being intentional in your parenting, check out my free eBook, The Intentional Parent 30 Day Challenge!

Do your kids seem to behave better when you let them know what is expected?

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  1. Rosemary says:

    This is something that helps my kids a lot, and at the same time I find it something very hard to do. I love the examples because it gives me ideas on how to do it more often!

  2. This is really, really good advice. I have found this to be true with our kids as well. Generally I will talk with my kids on the way to our destination about what we will be doing, what they can do, and what I expect them not to do. Even as adults it can be tremendously helpful to know what is expected of us. I think that this is just another way we can set our kids up for success and not put an extra burden on them to read our minds. It’s also important to note that just because you told them your expectations the last time you were at the zoo (for example), you cannot assume that they will remember. We go to Costco often, but I still take a few minutes to remind them of the expectations each time we shop there.
    Thank you for this. I’m sharing it. It’s helpful no matter how old our kids are!

    • Katie says:

      I am working on this. I wish I wasn’t so scattered myself, so I could remember to do this more! However, practice is helping it come a bit more naturally for me.

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