ModernParents May Be Letting Kids Fall Prey To The "Expectation Gap"

mom toddler frustrated

When we really dive into the idea of parents putting pressure, or expecting too much from, their kids, we tend to think of school-aged children or teens. But a new survey found that as caregivers, we're prone to expecting more from our toddlers than they are developmentally prepared to give.

Picture it: You're at the playground or a Parent & Me class watching your little one interact with others. A coveted toy piques the interest of your kiddo and another similarly-aged child. Instead of sharing, your son or daughter is prepared to engage in combat to win control of the beloved object (which they'll likely toss aside in a few minutes when something shiny and new is discovered). You may be quick to admonish the toddler for not sharing, or with a bit of embarrassment admit to the other parent that "sharing is something you're all working on."

Here's the thing -- sharing skills only start to develop between the ages of 3 to 4 years. And even then, it's going to take time for your kid to get used to the idea of this life skill.

The good news is that you're not at all alone in expecting more from your toddler than they can possibly offer at their tender age.

ZERO TO THREE, an early childhood resource group, questioned parents across the country with their survey Tuning In: Parents of Young Children Tell Us What They Think, Know and Need and learned that a majority of moms and dads overestimate their offspring's ability to practice self-control at the toddler stage. The group has coined this the "expectation gap."

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mom reading to toddler son
Credit: iStock / Giselleflissak

The key findings are pretty darn interesting. Take for example that 56 percent of parents involved in the survey believe that before the age of 3 kids have the impulse control to resist the desire to do something forbidden (spoiler alert: they do not). Other percentages are eerily similar, like the fact that 43 percent of parents believe kids know how to share and take turns with their peers before the age of 2. The figure we find most surprising is that 24 percent of the participating parents said they believe kids have the ability to control their emotions (i.e. resisting tantrums when they're frustrated) at just 1 year of age or even  younger.

Of course we want our kids to develop into kind, well-rounded individuals with a strong sense of right from wrong, but if this survey has taught us anything, it's that maybe we need to ease up on our expectations. Social development doesn't happen overnight, and putting pressure on our kids to act a certain way, or scold them if their brains aren't yet wired to respond to situations the way we'd like, isn't helping. Offer your own support, kindness, and guidance, and your child will truly benefit in the long run.

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