A parent recently asked me, ”How do I know if I’m expecting too much of my toddler?”

My answer was, “If your toddler consistently fails to meet your expectations, she’s demonstrating that she’s not developmentally ready to meet them. In other words, you’re expecting too much. So, instead of expecting her to do what she can’t do – and feeling frustrated or angry with her, adjust your expectations and celebrate what she can do.” 

The same question kept reappearing, disguised in a variety of ways, as the mother asked: “But shouldn’t she be able to…” and “Why won’t she…?” I answered, “Because she can’t… yet.”

We can’t expect a baby to sit up or stand before they’re developmentally ready and we can’t expect a toddler to be able to resist climbing when they have an impulse to climb or resist touching an object that’s tempting but off-limits. No matter how much a parent may want their toddler to eat without wiggling in their chair or politely ask for a drink of water instead of demanding it like a tyrant, children can’t behave in “socially acceptable” ways until they’re developmentally ready, until they’ve had a lot of patient guidance from their parent and a lot of practice. Having a sense of lightness and humor about things serves parents better than a rigid set of rules their children aren’t ready to follow.

When we have reasonable expectations of children and accept and celebrate where they are right now, disappointment and frustration are eliminated, and life becomes a whole lot easier, happier and more fun.