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What Effects Do Parental Expectations Have on Kids?

by Anna Green, studioD

Parental expectations can have a strong effect on kids’ motivation and self- expectations. While healthy and realistic expectations can encourage kids’ success, unrealistically high expectations can set children up for failure. Such unrealistic expectations can also lead to anxiety and discouragement when a child cannot live up to her parents’ goals. Likewise, low expectations can make it difficult for kids to see and achieve their full potential.

Perpetuating Family Patterns

Unrealistic parental expectations often stem from parents’ own upbringings. Mimi Hudson, M.A., R.C.C. of North Shore Family Services, explains that parents often try to compensate for their own unmet childhood needs by setting expectations for their children, based on their own experiences rather than on their child’s needs. For example, parents who were disappointed with their own academic performance might emphasize high academic achievement in their own children. Overall, parents must be aware of their children’s unique needs and strengths, as well as to exercise self-awareness when establishing expectations.


Parents’ expectations for their children can affect the way that kids perceive their own abilities and potential. For instance, if parents have different expectations for how girls and boys behave, children will often internalize these behavioral expectations. While these parental beliefs can be positive in some cases, they also have the potential to negatively influence a child’s perception of herself, particularly if the parents’ wishes are not congruent with the child’s.


Parental expectations are a cornerstone of discipline in kids. When paired with loving, supportive attitudes, setting clear behavioral and academic expectations for children can help them learn manners, social skills, study skills and other tools they will need to succeed in school and in society. However, for expectations to lead to positive behaviors, parental rules and ideas about proper behavior must be age-appropriate and consider the child’s maturity level and skills. If rules are expectations far exceed a child’s abilities, this may create anxiety or insubordinate behaviors. Thus, parents should consider each child’s unique skills and limitations when establishing expectations.

Academic Success

Parental expectations can have a strong, positive effect on children’s academic success. In a study conducted published by the Harvard Family Research project, Professor William H. Jeynes of California State University at Long Beach found that parental expectations affected children’s academic outcomes more than other types of parental involvement, including attendance of school events and clear rules. Thus, establishing healthy academic expectations and communicating these expectations to kids can be an important key to fostering success in school.

About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.

Photo Credits

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