Back to School and Beyond: Tips for Setting Routines and High Expectations

“High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectations.”—Charles F. Kettering, engineer and inventor

The back to school season is a great time to revisit or set expectations. What do you expect of your kids? Having expectations that are high—yet also realistic—is essential for raising successful kids. Think of a balloon. If there’s no air (like no expectations), it’s flat. If you put in too much air (expectations that are too high and impossible to meet), the balloon bursts. Finding the right balance of expectations will stretch kids to grow without frustrating them.

Tips for all parents

Help kids develop predictable routines around waking up, getting ready for the day, eating meals, taking care of their bodies, going to bed at a regular time, and getting enough sleep. Kids are more likely to be successful when their routines help them thrive.

Pay attention to your kids’ interests. They’re more likely to obtain high expectations when they’re doing things they enjoy. These are called sparks. Learn more about sparks >

Talk with your kids about the goals you’ve set and achieved. Explain how you overcame obstacles to meet your goals.

Expect bumps along the way. Achieving high expectations is not like climbing a ladder where each step is a step up. Expect setbacks, ruts, and doubts. They’re all part of the process. The key is to work through the difficulties along the way.

parents with children ages birth to 5

Encourage kids to grow and develop at their own pace. Don’t compare your child to other kids. Some are early walkers. Some are late walkers. Both are normal. Follow your child’s lead. Learn more >

Watch for pressures that you place on your child because of your needs rather than your child’s needs. For example, many parents pressure their kids to get toilet trained before kids are ready, which only creates stress and problems.

Give young children extra time to practice new things, such as learning how to feed themselves, to button, how to skip. Expect the process to be messy and slow. Be encouraging and don’t expect perfection.

parents with children ages 6 to 9

Have high expectations for homework and schoolwork. Make it easier for your child to do his or her homework every day by sitting next to your child. You can do your own project or work and also be available for questions.

Learn more about supporting school success >

Help kids break large, difficult tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks. Talk about how people can do things, little by little.

Find activities that get your kids excited. Encourage them to set goals and to have fun at the same time.

parents with children ages 10 to 15

Don’t let puberty lower your expectations! Just because your kids may become moody or resistant doesn’t mean you should let them pull back on household chores, their activities, or their schoolwork.

Don’t be surprised if your child focuses more on friendships at this age. This is common. Be clear, however, that friendships aren’t the only important aspects of your child’s life. Find out more about teen friends here.

Ask kids grow and change, encourage them to find new activities to replace ones they’re no longer interested in. Some young teenagers stick with the same activities that they’ve done since they were young children; others go through radical changes. Both are normal.

parents with children ages 16 to 18

Help your older teenager find challenging classes that aren’t too overwhelming or frustrating. If your teenager starts a class and discovers it’s way too easy or way too hard within the first couple of weeks of school, help your teenager switch to a class that’s more at his or her level.

Continue to support your teenager’s activities. Help your teen find helpful coaches, teachers, and club leaders who have high expectations and great relationship skills.

Encourage your teen to look for opportunities after graduation that are exciting and stimulating. Some get excited about college. Others get excited about a trade. Others want to join the military. Still, others want to try to be independent and work and live on their own. Talk through your expectations, and listen closely to the expectations your teen has for him or herself. Try to bring your expectations and your teenager’s expectations closer together.

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Great, balanced advice


I think this is wonderful and balanced advice. I like the way you encourage engaging children in finding what they want and setting expectations.

I’ve recently been on a rant about parents messing up their kids by being too demanding and setting ridiculously high expectations:…

This is welcome, fresh advice.