EPIC Blog: Setting Expectations - 4KIDS
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EPIC Blog: Setting Expectations

February 7th, 2022 l Author: Maria Silva, LMHC, and Michele Rogan

It’s easy to expect big things of ourselves, things like being productive, reaching a financial goal, eating right and keeping up with relationships. Those are all goals in OUR control, for OURSELVES. Now let’s think…what expectations might you project on children? Is it to be quiet in the store, to play nice with other children, or eat all the vegetables at dinner?


Sometimes, these expectations can be harmful and create negative feelings if they are not met—tangibly this might look like meltdowns, tantrums, or other difficult behavior. This EPIC Tip is all about making expectations movable, so we can modify them based on the child’s growth. Here are a few things to consider when setting expectations and remembering that a trauma-informed approach requires adjustability:


First, think about is the child’s history. For example, if a child was abandoned when they were a baby, it will be hard for this child to be able to trust people. It may take longer than a month, a year, or two years for this child to warm up to you and might have to see words turn into actions on multiple occasions for trust to be built. This is where the expectation has to be movable.


Next, figure out what the child’s triggers are. Anything from a certain food, to a location, certain weather, or smells can cause a multitude of emotions, and these are called triggers. Triggers that can cause upset and are very common in children who experienced trauma. Figuring out what those triggers are can help in explaining reactions or behaviors. For example, if a child grew up eating rice for dinner every night and after dinner the parents fought and got angry, this food would bring up memories living in that broken place. Knowing that is a trigger would allow you to stay away from offering that food at dinner.


Lastly, ask yourself, “What happened to this child in the last 24 hours?” We all need certain things to function. I don’t know about you, but if I didn’t get enough sleep at night, I have a hard time focusing the next day. If a child hasn’t been able to run around and get energy out for several hours, it may be hard to sit still during a church service. If a child was bullied at school one day, he or she may be shy and unwilling to talk in the evening. It’s easy to realize our needs, but knowing what a child has experienced in the last 24 hours can help determine why an attitude or action may occur.


Every reaction is caused by something. In other words, there is a reason behind a child’s behavior, and it’s just a matter of figuring out what that reason is. Is it due to developmental complications, being exposed to a location that causes negative memories, or stress from school? Any of these scenarios could be at the root of a behavior that may not have been what you expected, whether it be emotionally or physically. Knowing a child’s past, finding triggers, and examining the last 24 hours will enable you to let go of the expectations and reset as the as time changes.


“But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12)