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What are Clear Expectations?

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August 5, 2012 by Arwen McGilvra

By Arwen McGilvra-

The philosophy of Clear Expectations is based on guidance and discipline. Clear Expectations are communicated ahead of time to let children know what kinds of actions will be met with positive approval and what kinds will be met with negative. They are creative ideas to teach kids how and why they should behave. They are positive and proactive. Based on the pillars of Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible. Clear Expectations will help you calm the stormy seas of your child’s behavior.


When we use phrases like, “Stop It,” “Act Your Age,” “Cut it Out” or “Knock it off” we’re hardly being clear. Especially if you have a toddler or preschooler who just may not be able to put 2 and 2 together and understand what you’re saying. Or whose attention you may not have at the moment, who may not even realize that you are speaking to them.

Clear Expectations is about setting the stage ahead of time using three simple rules, or pillars, and then changing the way you react in the moment to a guidance based approach. Clear Expectations also separates discipline from punishment (I’ll cover that in an upcoming blog.)

The three pillars of Clear expectations are Be Safe, Be Responsible, and Be Respectful. Once you have those established you can use them to help guide behavior, and use instruction instead of a raised voice.

So how does it work? I’m in the grocery store with Mikey, whose five. We’ve had several talks about the 3 Be’s and I feel he understands them as much as a 5 year old can. Mikey keeps touching every box on the shelf as we go by. He even knocks one off. I could tell him to “Stop it” in my most commanding voice.

But what I’m going to do instead is get down on his level, look him in the eye and use his name. “Mikey,” I’ll say,”When we are in the grocery store we act respectful by only touching the things we are planning on buying. For the rest of time we are in the store I’d like you to keep your hands to yourself.”

I kept it short. I made it positive. And hopefully he learned a little bit of grocery store etiquette as well.

Will this work every time? With every kid? Well no, but the principles behind it can slowly change the way you deal with situations and will slowly change the situations you will deal with.

Names are not the names of real people. I made them up, and they are not intended to resemble anyone I know by that name.


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