blog clear expectations for children
Missions Discipleship

Establishing Positive and Clear Expectations for Children at Church

This blog is part of a series on Fostering Healthy Minds in Children at Church that provides strategies children’s leaders can use to foster healthy minds in children to whom they minister. And, hey, you may even pick up a tip or two to help those in your personal circles! If you’re new to the series, we encourage you to check out the introduction here.

Establishing positive and clear expectations for children is huge in building compliance, self-esteem, and consistency. But creating and maintaining an environment of cooperation doesn’t happen overnight! So how do we go about it? Below are three strategies you can use to build a space in which children can grow and flourish as they learn.

Collaborate with the Children

In establishing expectations, we want to start with collaboration. In my experience, allowing kids to collaborate with you to set expectations for meetings, projects, etc., helps them take ownership of the rules and be more likely to follow them. It also allows them to feel like a partner in the decision making. (Look at that, we are hitting two points in one!) Of course, don’t be afraid to redirect some of their ideas or add some of your own.

Set Realistic Expectations

When setting expectations, we want to ensure our expectations are realistic. Unrealistic expectations can lead to discouragement. We want kids to leave our missions discipleship group feeling encouraged and motivated to pray for missions, learn about missions, support missions, and do missions and tell about Jesus!

Keeping this in mind, we should always communicate that perfection is not the expectation; focus on the process rather than the product. This may look like focusing on everyone participating, keeping each other on task, having fun, or getting finished by a certain date.

It is crucial to keep in mind that a realistic expectation may also look different for each kid. This is not a “one size fits all” strategy. When we put all kids in the same box of expectations, we are not acknowledging their individual needs and may actually set them up to feel like a failure. For example, while it may be a reasonable to ask Sally to have her project finished by the end of the meeting, Sarah — who may struggle with focus and attention — may need extra time to accommodate breaks or redirection.

Provide Positive Reinforcement

In maintaining an environment of positive expectations and outcomes, we want to take opportunities to make statements of encouragement. These are slightly different than statements of praise.

Encouragement solely focuses on the process. For example, say, “You worked so hard on that” or “You used so many bright colors,” instead of saying “Great job” or “I love your picture.”

Feedback on a child’s individual process helps them foster implicit motivation and self-esteem and become less reliant on the compliments of others to feel good about themselves. And in giving this type of feedback, you are modeling a positive behavior for children to imitate and learn to do as they grow.

Brooklyn Hancock is Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Registered Play Therapist, former Certified School Counselor, and a mom. Her passions are working with children, adolescents, teens, adults, and parents to navigate life’s toughest challenges.

Disclaimer: The information shared on is not meant to diagnose or treat a mental health condition. We encourage you to follow up with your health-care provider and seek a mental health professional for individual consultation and care.