Working with Parents Who Have Unrealistic Expectations of Development

Recently, an article was making its way around the internet called “What if Everybody Understood Child Development”.  I read this article with a bit of skepticism as I have found that even amongst practitioners, deep and meaningful understandings of child development is a lifelong quest.  I am continually considering how my understandings of development are challenged by my observations of children and quite often, “exceptions to the rules”.  I was pleasantly surprised by both the content and the tone of the article as the author discusses teachers, administrators and parents in her exploration of misunderstandings and non understandings of child development.  She illustrates her points with real-life examples that we have all seen all too frequently in our own interactions in education.

I, personally, am much more concerned about educators who either don’t understand development or refuse to acknowledge development as a central force in the lives of young children than I am when I encounter parents who have little to no understandings of development.  I am forced to remind myself that most parents have never studied human development in any way, shape, or form.  Should we expect parents to have realistic expectations of development when professionals often do not?

There are several things to remember.  First, parents may have nothing to compare their child to.  It is possible that their interactions with their child are the only interactions they have ever had with a small child.  It is hard for us, who work and think about young children all of the time, to remember how limited some people’s experiences are.  Second, human development is not taught as a required course in high school or college, so for many people, the concepts have never even been introduced even in the smallest ways.  Third, parents only want the best for their children and sometimes this might mean that they believe that pushing them will result in better outcomes. If reading is the ultimate goal, then why not expect children to work and work and work at reading until it happens?

Rather than giving in to parental pressure, it our job, and yes, our responsibility to educate parents about development.  Hot button topics like reading may be easier to explain with a less loaded topic like bike riding.  We don’t expect children to ride 2-wheeler bicycles when they are 2 or 3, right?  Everyone is perfectly happy to let their toddler or preschooler ride tricycles and Big Wheels for a good, long while before the training wheels are taken off.  Everyone would agree that it would be crazy to put a 2 year old on a 2-wheeler bike.  Why would we expect anything different cognitively or socially?  Children get ready to be 3 by being 2.  And they get ready to be 5 by being 4.  No amount of expecting 5-year-old skills and behaviors from 3 year olds, will result in faster or better outcomes.  This is a great fallacy and one we must combat if we want what is best for the children we serve.

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