Unlock Positive Change in Your Child When You Adjust Your Expectations

Grumpy SonQ. My son is 11 and an only child. His first reaction to everything is negative, a sigh, makes a face and moans. This is the reaction to every meal (even stuff he likes), an outing he likes or even just being asked to watch tv with us. When we try to do fun family stuff he moans. Nearly every time he enjoys the activity and tells us afterwards, when we ask, that he loved it. He just wants to be playing on his iPad or watching TV on his own in his room. He says these activities take time from his gaming. I get frustrated because I plan these family activities around what he likes to do and yet he moans about going. Then it causes a row because no matter what we do he never gets excited or happy.

A. Constant negativity is very wearing. Especially if you take it personally. What I mean by that is: Does your frustration stem from thinking you have failed to raise a happy kid? Do you think his negativity is your fault? If so what are you expecting of both your son and of you? 

When you set expectations that you want but that your son can’t meet, you set both of you up for failure. If you think he should be happier, more appreciative, more outgoing, you are setting expectations for the child you want rather than the one you have. So you will be disappointed again and again. And you will take his behavior personally because he’s not doing “it” right. And, worse, he learns he is a disappointment to you.

Family OutingYou can change your mindset when you adjust your expectations for the boy you have in front of you. When you do and he feels fully accepted, he can relax into who he is. This could take a while depending on your willingness and what he has learned about himself so far.  

Let’s take a more objective look:

  • He is a glass 1/2 empty kinda guy. Nothing wrong with that. When you look deeply, you will likely see a very perceptive, sensitive soul.
  • He’s eleven. This was the hardest year I ever had with my daughter (also a glass ½ empty kid). He is probably less hormonal than she was, but he is growing into the tough stage where kids are trying to figure out who they are. This will go on for several years and he will likely try on many different costumes.
  • He may have a tough time with transitions. His complaining probably has less to do with where you are going or what’s coming up than the difficulty in getting himself there. The shift in mental gears is rough for many kids. Again, nothing wrong with that. Keep planning exactly as you do. Just let the groaning signal you that it’s the change in gears that he’s having a tough time with. Find some compassion.
  • He engages in family activities and even enjoys them when he’s there. Count your blessings!
  • You’re right about him wanting to be in his room on his ipad. Games are designed to excite and reel kids in and hold them tight. This is where he would rather be—at least for now. Set limits but do not nag and plead with him to get off. 
  • He anticipates that you are going to be displeased with him, so he’d rather be alone. You don’t like his complaining, but I bet he doesn’t like your scrutiny. The more you understand him and reflect back all the good you see in him, the more he will turn down the dial on the complaining.Family Outing

Set your expectations for his success:

  • Expect that he will not want to do anything other than stay put. Remind yourself, Of course, he’d rather be by himself playing video games. But do keep encouraging family fun times, movie nights, family dinners and building them around what he likes.
  • Expect him to moan and groan. That doesn’t mean he’s not okay or even happy. Your worry that he’s not projects onto him, so he thinks there’s something wrong with him. He feels isolated and so he keeps himself isolated. 
  • Expect and accept his negativity. Take it with as big a grain of salt as you can and find some humor in it. Perhaps work up to something like, “Would Mr. Grumpy-pants like to go for a bike ride with your decrepit parents?” But – make sure he takes a sarcastic remark with humor instead of mocking. This may take him trusting your full acceptance of him first.
  • Expect him to answer when you ask how he liked something. Do not expect that answer to be cheerful and full of enthusiasm. Again, count your blessings that he enjoys so much with you. 

Family OutingThese expectations bring you to his level, where he is right now. That’s where he needs to have you—always. You must meet him and accept him at his level before you can expect more.

His level will change. Adjust your expectations accordingly. As he feels accepted, he will feel more successful. Then you can raise expectations, and he will rise to the challenge.

It is only when children feel unconditionally accepted by the most important people in their lives that they are motivated to do well and grow self-confidence. When he feels confident, his negative lens will come into good use.

Related Articles:

The Power of Acceptance

Making Peace with Fears and Doubts