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How to Set Expectations for Your Kids

A couple of years ago a dear friend shared with me some valuable advice: Every morning on the way to school she told her children exactly what she expected of them that day. She found her kids responded very well to this, and almost always rose to the expectation.

Instantly I began using this almost everywhere we would go: play dates, extended family dinners, holiday parties, birthday parties, etc. I would, and still do, instruct my children to use their manners, thank the hosts, think of a compliment, and to respect other people's houses and toys. I always make it clear that it is an honor to be invited. If we behave we often are invited back. But if not, then we risk never being invited again.

I even use this technique when going to the grocery store and running other errands. Each place we go has slightly different rules, but I believe it is important to begin trying to guide my children on what is acceptable in these settings. 

First, let me explain that I find it helps to tell them before we arrive. That way, they can prepare themselves before becoming distracted with their new surroundings. I don't say all of these every time, and I alter what I say depending on if I'm speaking to my 8, 5 or 3-year-old, but these are a few of my expectations for my children. I aways say them politely, and then often tell them that if they follow all of these rules, how proud I will be and even eager to return with them another time.

If I know I will be asking a lot of them, and for a longer period of time, I will often follow it up with "If you behave, when we get home you get to . . ." Often the reward is to watch a movie, have a favorite snack, or I try to think of something else special for them. 

I don't always like to bribe my kids, and don't want them to think all good behavior deserves a reward each and every time. I believe they should always aim to be the best version of themself. But, they are still young children. If I have a full day planned with running errands and doing my things, then I like to reward them with something fun at the end. 

Below are a few examples of places that we might go and what I might say to them in the car before we arrive:

On Our Way to School: Please . . .

  • Listen to your teachers
  • Be kind to all of your friends and classmates
  • Give someone new a compliment
  • Look for someone lonely at lunch or recess and be a friend to them
  • Learn something new

On Our Way to The Store: Please . . .

  • Do not grab anything off the shelf without asking me first 
  • Stay right beside me
  • No running
  • Hold my hand in the parking lot
  • Wait patiently in line and do not beg for candy at checkout
  • Be mommy's helper (my kids love putting things in the shopping cart for me, or helping to carry a few light items).

On Our Way to Someone Else's House:  Please . . .

Take off your shoes when we go inside

Remember your Pleases and Thank yous

Do not grab toys without asking first 

Stay in the rooms they are entertaining in (do not go upstairs or downstairs without asking first)

Our house rules still apply — no running, wrestling, jumping on furniture, yelling, etc.

Have fun

With this one I like to remind them that if we behave well, we might get invited back. But we are acting out or not following the rules, then they may not want to have us over again. I try to help them understand what an honor it is to be invited into someone else's house, and that the best way we can show them our appreciation is by using our manners and respecting their property. 

On Our Way to the Park: Please . . .

  • Hold my hand in the parking lot
  • Do not run off. Stay close to mommy so I can always see you and help
  • Take turns and no pushing your siblings or any other kids
  • Stay close to your younger siblings, or friends, and help them if needed
  • Be careful when running that you don't bump into others
  • Let's have some fun


Share This Story

Karissa Tunis is a mom of three and co-owner of, a parenting web site that strives to share positive, practical advice and resources to help you find joy in your parenting journey.

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