Lately, I found myself appreciating a trait that my parents have demonstrated when we were growing up, especially during the school years - demanding their children to try harder and always strive to be the best. Now, this is different from "do your best and it will be ok" approach that is so prevalent in the Western world nowadays. We do not place high expectations on our kids as they navigate learning and mastery in the early years - trying is enough. We give participation awards for just showing up, diminishing the value of the actual medals awarded to the winners, thus hurting their future motivation as well: why should you make an effort if it will be enough to show up?! And eventually we end up with kids who do not know how to loose and burst in tears, throw tantrums or worse, hurt others because of the frustration that accompanies the loss.
An American inventor, Charles Kettering, said: "high achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation". If we expect our children to excel, to overcome challenges and persevere, they will! Children are not born achievers because self-motivation and perseverance are learned traits. It is parental responsibility to teach children to form goals and show them how to achieve these goals by supporting their efforts and instilling the self-belief that they can reach their goals, as difficult as these might be.
Nevertheless, we all want our children to achieve the balance between being successful members of the society and being happy while pursuing their goals. The key here is instilling in your child the belief that she "can do it", and that you will be there to help if she needs you. Research has shown us that parental beliefs regarding what their children are capable influence the kids' academic and social outcomes (1, 2). In other words, if you want your child to thrive, you must hold "great expectations" because if you set your goals for them very low, they will achieve those and will not strive for more.
This is quite a powerful stance: you have the power to shape the kind of a person your child will grow to be. If you show your child that you believe she is capable of performing better, she likely will. Yet, if you show her that you doubt her abilities, she is less likely to take on new challenges as the expectation is failure. Of course, believing is just the first step in achieving these goals - your belief is not going to be sufficient for success. Believing your child can achieve a task also means actively supporting her efforts and if necessary, providing her with the tools to achieve those.
Finally, you will want to provide your child with the tools necessary to develop a growth mindset, or in other words, with the internal motivation, to improve. This is especially important following failures or partial successes. Instead of dwelling on the negative results, brainstorm with your child how they can complete the task better next time they try: What can they do to improve next time? How can they prepare differently? Your support and encouragement along the way will be the essential tools your child will need to meet the high expectations you have defined for them. Nothing is impossible if they are determined to achieve these goals by working hard.
(1) Benner, A. D., & Mistry, R. S. (2007). Congruence of mother and teacher educational expectations and low-income youth's academic competence. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(1), 140–153. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-06126.96.36.199
(2) Grossman, J. A., Kuhn-McKearin, M., & Strein, W. (2011, August). Parental expectations and academic achievement: Mediators and school effects. Presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. Washington, DC.
(3) Natale, K., Aunola, K., & Nurmi, J. E. (2009). Children's school performance and their parents' causal attributions to ability and effort: A longitudinal study. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(1), 14-22.