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Great Expectations

“High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation” - Charles Kettering. When we expect others to behave in a particular way, we often (unconsciously) act in ways that make these behaviours more likely to occur.

A simple study demonstrates this effect. Researchers gave a group of primary school students an IQ test and provided teachers with a list of the top performing students. The teachers were told these students were likely to demonstrate academic excellence over the coming year. Sure enough, these students showed a significantly greater gain in performance over their classmates when tested again at the end of the year. However, the "academic achievers" were chosen at random. The only difference between these students and their classmates was in the minds of the teachers'.

This happens for parents too. Mothers from the US and Japan were interviewed about when they expected their 4‐year‐olds to acquire specific developmental skills. Interestingly, Japanese mothers expected early mastery of skills related to self‐control, and US mothers expected earlier development of skills requiring assertiveness. The researchers found that two years later, while both US and Japanese children performed similarly, they differed significantly on the specific skills their mothers expected them to excel at.

How we interact with our children, is governed by our understanding and perceptions of the world. With our expectations, we subtly and unconsciously help to shape our children's development. Let's make sure we expect the best from them and shape them to be the best they can be!


- Rosenthal & Jacobson (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom. The Urban Review, 3,16-20. Chicago. - Hess, Kashiwagi, Azuma, Price, & Dickson (1980). Maternal expectations for mastery of developmental tasks in Japan and the United States. International Journal of Psychology,15, 259-271.

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