Are there things we do, maybe inadvertently, that set our kids up for false expectations on life? I read an article this week that said that Gen Y is a generation who has grown up with unconditional love and encouragement that they can do whatever they want – when it comes to real life they are unable to handle criticism. Is my family heading the same way? Are our children prepared to face real life or have they been cocooned in false expectations?

We want the best for our children and it is easy to paint a rosy picture for them. Here are three areas that we need to be careful in as we encourage our children.



False expectations will hurt our child in the end when they discover life isn’t really like that after all. Don’t paint a picture that isn’t true.

False Expectations will hurt our Children

I am invincible.

I remember hearing a presentation to mums encouraging them to let their boys run risks. The speaker’s theory (and it rings true to me) is that the reason young men feel they are invincible when they finally get their driver’s license is that they have never hurt themselves. Playgrounds are padded and physical contact sports are discouraged; as parents we make sure our kids are safe. The downside of this is that our kids never find themselves in a physically risky situation where they have to assess the risk versus their abilities, and then they never have to actually put it to the test. They therefore grow up convinced they can do anything safely – after all safe has been their experience. This really helped me with parenting Daniel. He likes to take risks. He’ll do things that I think aren’t safe though I now say to myself “He’s in risk management training!” I have learnt to be guided by Peter in these areas – it seems to be a man/boy thing and I don’t want to hinder just because I’m not so adventurous. My boys need to learn to not only take physical risks but they need to know their limitations. They won’t learn this if I shield them from every opportunity. (My girls probably need to learn this too.)

The thing is, our kids need to learn to take other risks too – emotional and social (like meeting new people), spiritual (like stepping out in faith when you believe God has prompted you), moral (like standing alone), practical (like starting a new job or business).

Our life is not supposed to be without risk. Risk is addressing possibilities and handling the good with the bad. Our children need to understand the pros and cons, the possibilities of good and bad, and accept failures when they come. This starts when they are young – do you encourage them to do new things, overcome their fears, accept their mistakes, and find solutions when things go wrong. Or do you keep them only doing the things they’ll be successful with?

I can do anything.

I don’t mean this in the invincible kind of way but rather in our affirming our children do we leave them with the understanding that the whole world is theirs – they can do any job they like, talent abounds, opportunity is just theirs for the picking. This is not truth. We all have our limitations. When I was in my 20’s I tried fashion design. I simply couldn’t do it. I had the ideas but my drawings just did not communicate what was in my head. I stuck with it for a while, trying to learn new skills but in the end the reality was I just didn’t have what it took. I could never be a vet (as my husband is), I could never be a politician (as my son hopes to be). We are all different – we have different skills, talents and passions. We need to help our children get to know themselves, know how they tick, know what they love, know what they can do well and encourage them in those things.

One day Josh was trying to change a light fitting and things weren’t going well (not the usual house lighting). Daniel who couldn’t reach the ceiling even with the ladder came up and directed Josh how to do it. Daniel had never done it himself, though he had watched his dad do it many times. Daniel understands how things work – this isn’t one of Joshua’s strengths. I was sharing this story to someone, illustrating my kids different strengths and the lady was stunned that Josh didn’t take offence at his little brother telling him what to do. But, as I explained to her, Josh is secure in his strengths and understands his weaknesses. He also recognises his brother’s strengths and in doing so they can help each other succeed, they can work together without the pressure of competition.

There is a difference between telling our kids – “you can do anything you want in life”, and telling them – “You can do anything God has created you for”. Our kids need to know and accept who God has made them.

I am the best.

They may be good but are they the best? Really? In the small sphere of life that our kids are exposed to it may appear that they are the best but reality is that it is only in “their own paddock”. Reality is though that there are other people out there just as good, probably better. When we think we are the best we carry an arrogance into other aspects of our life, we elevate ourselves above reality, and we will be shattered when reality confronts us. Once again we need to teach our kids to acknowledge their strengths but not above all else. I think we can all excel at something – and yet never without the heart attitude of humility.

Lessons from Character First* teaches us that 

  • Humility acknowledges the investments others have made into my life
  • Humility does not boast or brag
  • Humility serves others without being recognised
  • Humility is never being ‘too important’ for a job

Does your child recognise that others helped him be as good as he is (even if he isn’t the best), does he go about doing what he is good at quietly, does he use the skills he has to serve others, does he do the little and dirty jobs that don’t need his ‘skill’?

The example around us is that when people have a specialised skill they elevate their abilities, they do all they can to be recognised and advance themselves. There has to be a balance between recognising that you have the skill and then how you use it. We are in a better place when we can believe (and live accordingly) that God has given us a skill, ability or passion and that His purpose for us is to give glory to Him not shape a status for ourselves. Have you taught your children to consider the things they are good at and yet keep it in balance with humility?

(*We have used Character First materials extensively in our home.  Check out these free resources: Character First Education)

Our children need to be able to 

  • Take instruction from other people (other than their parents)
  • Accept correction (both from parents and others in authority)
  • Accept a “No” (no you didn’t get the job, no you didn’t qualify, no you can’t¦.)
  • Accept criticism (this isn’t good enough, this isn’t right, please do this again)
  • Ask for help (acknowledge they can’t do something but someone else could help them)
  • Acknowledge when they have messed up (ask for forgiveness and be ready to try again)
  • Accept failure (but pick themselves up and try again)

Though we want our children to be safe, confident and hopeful for their future our words of encouragement need to be based on truth. Life isn’t rosy, there are challenges, and they will have disappointments and hard times. If we shield our kids from these realities now they will be hit with a shock later in life. Our role as parents is to prepare our children for a real world – a world that has rejection and acceptance, criticism and praise, limitations and opportunities, boundaries and freedoms, responsibilities and privileges, trials and blessings, disillusionments and encouragements and so forth.

Let us be real in how we encourage our children to live their life. Our children can face the world, without fear, without uncertainty if they stand on the truth that God is their refuge, their strength and will be present in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1)


Further Reading

Be Careful about Wrong Information Stored in Your Heart: When we have the wrong information in our heart it makes us make wrong choices. Make sure we are believing what is true so we can honour God in all we do.

5 Different times Parents can Speak Words of Life to their Children: Throughout the day we have 5 different opportunities to speak words of life – words that instil hope, courage, trust and a sense of belonging.


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