Do not expect children to act like adults

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It is when we forget that children express their emotions without filters and as we place expectations on them to act in a mature way, that we get frustrated with the situation and disappointed in their behaviour. Have fewer expectations, and you will be less stressed and might even be pleasantly surprised.

Your crying baby does not know you are at a library, and an overtired child does not realize they need rest. Instead they express their feelings and frustrations to the full extent. On the plus side, once the negative stimuli are gone, they are as likely to be quietly playing or peacefully cooing.

More importantly, ignore other people’s expectations of your children. If a practitioner does not have any toys available for children and lacks a semblance of a change table, they likely have not worked with children for very long. They will, however, act surprised when faced with a restless child who does not want to sit still and be examined, and who will not allow the parent to have a meaningful conversation with the practitioner, since the child needs to be doing something meaningful as well. It is easy to get frustrated with your child at that point, but the fault is not theirs. It is the discrepancy between the reality of children’s view of the world and the environment provided for them.

I have been faced with an optometrist that told me that their previous client’s child “clearly has ADHD”, since, as she put it, “the kid was bouncing off the walls” during the appointment. Besides it being a completely unprofessional attitude to discuss your clients with anyone else, let alone judge their behaviour (what will she be saying about my child when we leave?), to me that showed her complete lack of understanding of child psychology. She expected a child placed in a semi-dark room, with a variety of fascinating machines, to sit still, not touch anything, and not try to leave the room for over half an hour, while she put drops in their eyes (which she failed to mention do sting), waited until the drops took hold, and then proceeded to require them to sit still in various positions and answer her (meaningless to a child) questions. It boggles my mind that such a practitioner would expect my sympathy and understanding of her “ordeal” dealing with the aforementioned “ADHD child”, or with any behavioural issues my child exhibits in her opinion. My much more natural response is to conclude that she has no experience working with children, and I will not be coming back, costing her business.

Put yourself in your child’s shoes. They don’t know you have appointments, commitments, anticipations of future events, apprehensions of the situations and people you face, and an entire system of rules on how to politely handle a variety of situations. They don’t know economical or political implications of not “behaving properly”. They know they are bored, tired, or hungry, and they will let you and anyone who is around know it. If I am bored out of my mind waiting for a doctor, at least I know why I am there and know the alternative of myself or my child not getting a diagnosis or treatment. The child does not know that and we should not expect them to. They have no motivation to be there, so if we want any sort of sanity in any situation, we need to provide them with the motivation or make the experience fun, and we should not expect them to behave like adults.

So if you want less stress in your life, lay off the expectations of perfect behaviour. Light knows, many adults fulfil that expectation infrequently. Look at any situation from your child’s perspective and ask yourself why they are acting as they are. Then either try to correct the reason for their state, or take a deep breath and try to minimize the impact by asking a bare minimum of your child, showing understanding, and suggesting how the current situation or the immediate future can be viewed as a fun activity.


  1. simplyfiendish

    What I have found helpful when my kids were younger, bored and frustrated while shopping, at appointments and such…I always had a few “special” small toys always on hand. The reason they were special was that they were specifically used for only when we were out. No other time. They were not their usual everyday toys that they play with regularly at home. Having specific “going out toys” kept them distracted and engaged longer. Once we were back home, the “going out toys” were put out of sight, out of mind until our next outting.

    • Yes, it used to work wonders for us until about the age of two and a half. We still bring special toys and books with us, but they promptly get ignored in favour of exploring the new unknown environments and exciting equipment.

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