It is no secret that the involvement of parents in their child’s education leads to better outcomes – research has shown this consistently. But how do we go about vocalising exam expectations and the aspirations that we have for our children? Should we talk about them or just leave our kids to it in the assumption that they probably know that we want them to do ‘well’ anyway.
Perhaps our own knowledge of the education system is not sufficient and we feel embarrassed having these conversations.
Regardless of whether or not we feel that we should be having this conversation; it is an important one to have. Ultimately, the potential harm of not having this conversation outweighs any embarrassment that you may feel doing it.
Why is it important that we have this conversation?
Not vocalising your expectations to your child could lead to the assumption that you do not have any expectations or you’re just not that bothered either way.
It is fine to not have any set expectations (i.e. you just want them to do ‘well’) but it is still worthwhile speaking to your child about why this is or what ‘well’ actually means so that they don’t just assume that it is because you’re not interested.
This assumption may encourage a careless attitude or even encourage resentment.
Worse, if your child suspects that you do not care they may be less likely to come to you for emotional support if they feel stressed or anxious.
Alternatively, not vocalising your expectations may also lead to the child filling in the blanks for themselves and assuming that you have high or exorbitant expectations of them.
This could lead to another extreme – the child putting excessive pressure on themselves because of a false assumption.
When to do it
The best time to be having this conversation is at the start of the academic year. That way you are both on the same page for the whole year and can you provide support, if necessary, early before any problems escalate.
There is no particular ‘year’ to be having this conversation because it is a worthwhile discussion to be having throughout the child’s academic career and, of course, the conversation will be slightly different if your child is in Year 6 compared with if they are in high school or university.
“It always seems impossible until it's done.”
– Nelson Mandela
Parental expectations have been shown to be a significant factor in university completion rates so, if they are of college age, don’t assume that just because your child is now an adult that your work is over.
In fact, parental support at this time can be more critical than ever as your child leaves the more rigid learning environment of school and enters a world where they are expected to manage and schedule their own studies.
For students starting a milestone in their academic career, such as moving up a key stage or starting national secondary school exams like GCSEs, it is an essential conversation to have. Most secondary schools will usually hold transition talks for parents whose children are reaching these milestones, so it is worth checking with your child’s school as to the best times to talk.
Keep the conversation open
It is worth having this discussion regularly because although your expectations and aspirations for child may not be changing, the child’s aspirations for themselves may change as they grow and find that they enjoy certain subjects and activities but not others. To avoid false expectations and disappointment ensure that your expectations are realistic, and are aligned with your child’s and that both are also aligned with ability.
If you find that your own aspirations and expectations for your child differ greatly from your own, it may mean having further discussions to see how you can reconcile both or how you can respect their decision. In cases where there are mandatory subjects or activities involved that the child is not interested in (e.g. maths), a compromise may need to be reached.
Alternatively, if the child’s aspirations do not align with their ability then you can make arrangements of how you might support them to achieve these aspirations.
It may mean providing provisions for extra tuition or resources or getting them in touch with someone who has the knowledge or experience to help them.
Being able to provide this support early on is why it is so important that you have this discussion not just at the start of the school year, but early in their academic career so that it becomes part and parcel of your relationship, making such conversations easier and any issues or problems quicker to resolve.