How To Manage Back-To-School Expectations: Kid Edition

We’ve talked about how to help your child understand YOUR expectations, and now it’s time to help you (and them) understand THEIR expectations.

Our kids have many expectations, from what they are going to have for breakfast to what their school days and vacations will look like. The problem with expectations, though, is that they can be disappointing when they don’t meet up with what’s pictured in one’s mind.

Last summer we made a trip to Glacier National Park with our little family. In preparation, my oldest daughter read every book she could find on Montana and had quite the experience worked up in her head regarding all the things she would see and do. When we arrived and didn’t see half of the animals listed in her books, there was great disappointment. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy our trip, though, she actually loved it; the issue was that she’d expected it to turn out a certain way and it hadn’t.

Tip: Grab my FREE Back-To-School Contract to help you and your child find success this school year! Find it HERE.

How to Manage Back-To-School Expectations

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? I know I have, even as an adult. As a child, though, it’s harder to manage those expectations and the disappointment that comes with them. To assist our kids, it’s important that we listen to those expectations and bring some reality to the situation ahead of time with redirection.


For the elementary-aged child, expectations surrounding school can be big. Having a discussion before the beginning of the year regarding what your child expects of the school year ahead can be a big step in helping prevent disappointment.

New Class

Questions you might ask could include:

  • What do you think ______ grade will be like?
  • What is the one thing you can’t wait to learn in ______ grade?
  • Do you think your class will take any field trips? If so, what do you hope they will involve?
  • What special things do you think _____ graders do, that you weren’t able to do in previous years?

There are numerous questions you can ask your child, so feel free to come up with your own and allow for discussion and redirection, if necessary. For example, if your child is excited about learning about model rockets, but you are well aware that the 4th-grade curriculum doesn’t cover that topic, perhaps you can redirect them to the public library to find some resources and explore that topic outside of school.


Friendships might not be on the mind of the kindergartener or first grader, but by the time your child has made it to third grade (around age nine) they are really aware of their peer relationships, good or bad. If your child has struggled to make friends in the past, or has had a relationship go sour, they may be a little nervous when it comes to making, or even approaching, new friends.

If that’s the case, discuss with your child their concerns or excitement about the upcoming school year, with regard to their friendships.

  • Is he hoping to have a certain friend in his class?
  • Does she want to make a friend that will come over for occasional playdates?
  • Is he worried that all of the other kids can do something he’s not capable of just yet?

Whatever your child’s concern or expectation is, encourage them with ways they can make those dreams reality, while also walking them through some alternative situations.

For example: Perhaps Johnny won’t be in Billy’s class this year, so Billy will have to settle for playing with Johnny on the playground during recess time.

By giving our children the tools to deal with expectations gone awry, they will be better able to handle their emotions (eliminating the need for an emotionally embarrassing situation to take place in front of their peers) and adjust to a situation that doesn’t quite meet the image they’ve conjured in their minds.

New School

If your child is entering a new school, this issue of expectations related to friendships could be even more pronounced. If they’ve left behind close friends and are worried as to whether they will make new ones, don’t quash the discussion. Trust me, I know it’s easier to simply tell them that they shouldn’t worry and that there will be friends galore, but we all know that isn’t always the case.

Once again, I highly recommend having a discussion with your child about how they should approach these new situations with kids they’ve never met before. Is it likely they will make a great friend and come home the first day with nothing but good things to say about that person? It is, and yet we know from experience that’s not always the case.

How do you feel when you start a new job, move to a different town, or begin attending a new church? If you are anything like me, it’s a bit scary to think that you have to start all over again. Our kids feel those same emotions, they just might not voice them, so make a point to be attentive to their expectations this fall.


The expectations our children have don’t stop when they walk through the door at home. In fact, many of the expectations of my own children have been centered around their home life.


When your child is younger, the expectation is that their parents will provide food, clothing, and nothing but fun at home. Of course, we know that’s not always the case, as everyone has to groan and cry when bath time and bedtime are upon us. Maintaining a consistent schedule and routine is extremely helpful for the younger age group, as they get used to what is happening, and can expect it each and every day, even when they don’t like it.

As they get older, though, those expectations change. In the case of pre-teen daughters, their expectations tend to err on the side of not wanting mom and dad to interfere with anything. They still don’t want to take a bath and go to bed when they are told, but they are a little more willing to do so if they can do it on their own terms.

If this is the case in your home, I highly recommend having a sit-down discussion with your child as to what they can expect of you as their parent. I did just that with my own children, detailing what they can expect of me and their dad.

My children can expect that they will be provided with food, clothing, and any supplies that ensure their success in school. They can also expect that I will require them to get their chores done, do their homework, and show the adults in our home, and at school, the utmost respect.


As far as outward appearances go, I have no problem refraining from the hug and kiss in front of their peers, and even occasionally drop them a block from the school, just so they can “save face” and not feel like mom is embarrassing them. Additionally, I will not share the reasons for which they are in trouble, without first letting them know that I will be doing so if they don’t meet their end of whatever bargain we’ve made.

At any age, consistency is key in order to help our children maintain clear expectations.


Of course, privacy is another expectation our children have, both in our homes and at school. Discuss your child’s expectation of privacy, whether that be from parents or siblings, and do your best to ensure you meet that expectation to some degree.

When it comes to privacy in our home, my children can expect to have privacy from siblings in their rooms. They have privacy for changing, showering, and toileting as well, however, if there is any reason to expect that something inappropriate is taking place, then their privacy can go out the window immediately.

What my children don’t have is privacy when it comes to their journals and bedrooms, and they have the clear expectation ahead of time that I will be frequenting their rooms and will occasionally go through drawers, journals, and, when they are old enough, their phones. For our family, this is non-negotiable for as long as they live in our home.  They can expect me to keep them safe by doing so.

Of course, privacy expectations differ from child to child, so make sure that you know what your child hopes to have with regard to their own privacy.


The final thing I’d like us to consider today with regard to our children’s expectations is that of their bodies. This might not be such a big deal for those who have really young children, but as your child approaches puberty and their teen years, body image can become a huge ordeal. It’s different for each child as well, so it makes great sense to have some discussion (privately) with your child to help them determine what their expectations are for their bodies and whether those expectations are realistic. Often times, they don’t even understand how they are changing, and it’s frustrating not to know.

Remember that as a parent, much of what you say regarding your child’s body (and everything else, really) will go in one ear and out the other, but it’s important to at least acknowledge that they are feeling uncomfortable, worried, or whatever other emotion might be emerging at the time. If they have unreasonable expectations with regard to their body parts, gently help them understand the flaws in their logic.

Going Forward

This is not an exhaustive list of the expectations our children have for themselves or the world, and yet, it’s a great place to start. If you are interested in learning about your child’s expectations, I suggest having them make a small list of their own expectations for this next school year. Perhaps they want to make a new friend, or get better in a specific subject, or learn how to play a certain game in gym class. Whatever it is that they are dreaming of for themselves, let them write it down or illustrate it so that they can keep themselves accountable with regard to their goals.

Tip: Grab my FREE Back-To-School Contract to help you and your child find success this school year! Find it HERE.