Christian Parenting and Family Resources with Biblical Principles

Dads: Are Your Expectations For Your Kids Too High?

  • Ken R. Canfield, Ph.D. The National Center for Fathering
  • 2004 27 Sep
Dads: Are Your Expectations For Your Kids Too High?

I've often heard comments like these from grown sons and daughters: "My brother was an all-state quarterback, and since I played tennis, my dad was never happy with anything I did." "I made a B average in school, but Daddy was never happy with anything but A's." "I've never been able to really talk to my father after I decided to leave the family business."

Some dads communicate expectations that their children either can't or don't want to live up to, and drive their children to feelings of failure and futility. The kids struggle to feel accepted and appreciated because nothing ever seems quite good enough. Though reasonable facts might say they are successful at something, their emotions convince them that they are still failures.

These dads might inadvertently communicate that their love is conditional: "If you keep practicing, maybe next year you'll win first place." Instead of saying, "Nice going. That class was hard, and I know you worked for that C," these dads might say, "I'd really like to see you get all A's and B's next semester." They may actually be proud of their children, but they can't express it positively. Somehow, a simple compliment isn't enough.

They feel a need to also point out something the child has done wrong or something for the child to work on. Their children learn that love has strings attached.

On the positive side, expectations can be a force to motivate children to achieve in many different areas of life. I have five suggestions:

List the expectations you have for your children in the different areas of their lives: school, sports, behavior, and so on. As objectively as you can, look at each one and ask, "Is this expectation realistic? Is it too easy or too difficult?" Then ask this tough question: "Does my child feel like he has to excel to earn my love?"

Communicate your expectations positively, with encouragement. Instead of relaying the message, "You must do this ...," give your child lots of "You can do this" messages.

Be aware of your children's strengths, weaknesses, interests and dreams. One of the great dangers of fathering is molding your children into your own image instead of helping them discover who God is calling them to be. Either you want them to be like you, or you hope to cast a favorable image on the family. A healthy awareness of your children will temper and mold your expectations, and you'll be less likely to make that mistake.

Be a reliable model. When you demonstrate the godly behavior that you expect from your children, the limits and expectations you place on them make more sense to them. They know that, when you lay out certain rules for them to follow, you also live by that standard.

Love your child no matter what. A child who's appreciated and accepted for who he is -- regardless of his performance -- won't feel pressure, but freedom. He'll have the self-esteem and confidence to excel.

God's Word on Fatherly Encouragement

For many dads, learning to encourage your child is a supernatural act. If you didn't grow up with encouraging words, you'll have to be deliberate and practice the art of encouraging. Here are some ideas that weave Scripture with the realities of fatherhood:

• Phil. 2:1 asks you to consider the sources of your encouragement.

• 1 Thess. 2:11-12 reveals that you are an encourager-it's in your fathering destiny.

• Col. 3:21 warns us about what unrealistic or harsh expectations will do to our children.

• Luke 15:11-31 demonstrates the power of fathering perseverance and compassion.

The National Center for Fathering was founded in 1990 by Dr. Ken Canfield because every child needs a dad.  Children need dads whom they can count on -- someone who loves them, knows them, guides them and helps them achieve their destiny. Visit for more articles and resources to assist dads in nearly every fathering situation.