Managing Expectations: Parenting An Aspirational Child

What did you want to be when you were a child?

Most of us went through phases. Sometimes we wanted to be a award-winning sports star, then an actor, then a singer, then a… well, it changed depending on what we had recently seen on TV. For most of us, those aspirations soon gave way to reality, and we focused on finding a more realistic path in life, and usually one that is a far better fit for your skill set.

However, some parents find themselves confronted by their children never giving up those early dreams. If you find yourself in this situation, then you will run through a large amount of confusing (and sometimes contradictory) thoughts:

“I want my child to be happy, so obviously I should support them and try to make this future a reality for them.”

"I’m a realist, though. Those showbiz and sports careers are incredibly unlikely to happen; only a tiny fraction of people who try to ‘make it’ actually do. It would be bad parenting to encourage them down a road that I know they are almost certainly not going to be able to achieve.” 

“What’s wrong with letting them dream? They’ll figure it out in their own time.”

It’s entirely possible you will find yourself thinking all of these things at once. Parenting, eh?

If you do find yourself in this situation, here are a few ideas on how best to manage your child’s expectations without cramping their dreams.

Encourage them to explore the option
There’s nothing wrong with your child taking the time to see if their dream career is actually a viable option; if nothing else, it’s a nice hobby. If they want to be a singer, then they can take singing lessons; if they dream of soccer stardom, then the FCB Canada soccer academy is a natural way of exploring this; if they want to act, support their parts in school plays and community theater productions.

This time spent pursuing their dream is harmless if they decide their career path will take them in another direction, and valuable if they decide to pursue their chosen career.

Insist they explore other optionsIf your child wants to drop out of school at the age of 11 to pursue their career, this isn’t the best choice. For one thing, child stars tend to struggle when they reach adulthood. For another, if their career doesn’t take off as they plan, they won’t have the education they need to explore suitable options.

If your child is really determined, sit down and make a deal. You could, for example, say you will support them provided they pursue their education and finish high school/obtain a degree/whatever you decide is adequate. This helps protect their entire future, while still making it clear you support their current aspirations.

Be encouraging
If your child decides to quit an activity related to their chosen career path -- such as a wannabe singer that no longer wants to have singing lessons -- then that’s fine. It’s natural. However, it’s always worth making it clear that the door is open, and if they want to pick the hobby up again, you support that too.

The above should help you to navigate the often complex maze that your child’s unrealistic (but not impossible) hopes and dreams can bring.

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