Expectation Setting

My Christmas Tree at 6am on Christmas Morning.

I recently spent the holidays with my family and I learned the value in setting expectations around the celebrations. I like to wake up early on Christmas morning to open presents before eating breakfast or doing anything else that morning. It reminds me of my childhood. On Christmas Eve I told my husband that I wanted to open our presents in front of the fireplace and tree at 6am. He said he wanted to go surfing at first light in the morning. So we made a plan that included both. 

We ended up having a lovely Christmas Day and I realized much of this was because I communicated my needs and expectations ahead of time. We decided together what was reasonable, and then were able to execute the plan. It took me 35 years to figure out the importance of expressing expectations around an event, and it made me realize that communicating expectations is a skill that we should work on with teenagers, especially teen girls. We want our teens to feel empowered that their needs are important and worth meeting. There is no reason that this skill can’t be polished before adulthood. 

Expressing needs is like a muscle and it just takes practice to build the skill. I realize that it is an easy step to skip during planning, but worth the time because it can prevent the disappointment of expectations not being met. Before a weekend, birthday party, vacation, or a milestone like graduation, open up a conversation with teens about what they expect to happen and create a space to make a plan. Ask them questions like “what do you hope the day looks like?” “How do you hope to feel?” Or, “who do you hope to spend time with?”. Once they have expressed themselves, you can express your expectations as well and figure out how to compromise. When both sides feel invested in the plan it is a win all the way around. 

Part of growing up is learning about balance. Open conversations about expectations model how we hope teenagers will navigate advocating for themselves as adults. It sends the message that it is normal to have personal needs and normal to express them instead of letting others determine what is best without their say. We want teens to learn to use their voices and express what they need from future colleagues, bosses, and partners.

What isn’t normal is always expecting to get our way. We also need to support our teens while learning how to handle disappointment if it is impossible to meet their expectations. Sit with them, and learn with them, instead of fixing the situation for them. 

Something that I have learned to say to students in my office is, “That is really a bummer that happened. What are you going to do about it?” It shows empathy and empowers their next move to help themselves. 

In 2022 let’s make it a habit to convey our expectations to others. When we use clear communication we step into our own power. We are worthy of the life we foresee for ourselves.

Happy New Year!

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