Setting Expectations for Kids a la Dora the Explorer

Feb 9, 2012

I have always been a big advocate of setting clear expectations with kids and setting them up for success in any situation. I have written about only setting limits when necessary and discussed the importance of brevity and clarity with children. Along the same lines, I think another major technique in stopping behavioral issues and assuring compliance is to make sure your child is fully aware of what needs to happen in a very simple way. I find this reinforced in every episode of Dora the Explorer, and wanted to share it with you.

For those of you Dora lovers (or parents of Dora lovers), you are all too familiar with The Map. For those who aren’t, Dora is on an adventure every episode and needs help from The Map to figure out how to get to her final destination. Without belaboring the point, The Map tells her three locations that she must visit in order to complete the task. The Map repeats the three places in order four times, and encourages kids to say it with him. So, he might say “Pumpkin Patch, Spooky Forest, Haunted House” in a Halloween episode.

So, what does this have to do with you and your kids? I believe that you can never over-prepare your children for an experience, if it is done with respect and love. Children respond much better to situations when they are not caught off guard or unaware of what should take place in any given circumstance. The more you can provide expectations early, the more likely your children will comply with rules.

Married to me, my sweet husband often feels that he is a one-trick pony and I have all of these effective tricks in my playbook. However, he actually started doing this on his own and he is quite proud of the results! When he approaches a situation with our son that has previously been difficult (for example, getting him to get out of the tub and get his pajamas on after his bath), he repeats three things that are going to happen and tells our son to say it with him. So, he gives him an expectation of when he needs to get out of the bath tub (“Okay, we are going to count to ten and then we are done with bath”, as any abrupt shift or change can create difficulties in kids) and then says, “Now we do diaper, pajamas, all done” and repeats it with him.

While this doesn’t seem like rocket science, and may appear quite juvenile, the amazing thing is that it works! My son now lays down on the changing table and without prompting says, “diaper, pajamas, all done” with a smile on his face. Another example – I take him to Gymboree classes every week. He prefers to play on the equipment rather than sitting and doing the activities and following the teacher. So, on the way to class a few weeks ago, I told him, “When we get to Gymboree, we do Rainbow Rope, Pictures, Play” and had him repeat it several times. When we arrived, he actually gladly followed the agenda. This week on the way there, he said those expectations from the back seat on his own.

So, do I expect you to turn into The Map? No! But, the wisdom that can be learned from the show is that setting clear expectations, in groups of three, and having your kids participate in the process alleviates a lot of power struggling, behavioral issues and confrontation. So happy expectation setting with your new Dora the Explorer inspiration.

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