This may sound strange, but in the eyes of a child it is not clear whether he should follow parental instructions or satisfy the expectation of the parent. It is even stranger to accept that these are NOT one and the same thing. How? You may ask. It is simple. What parents want from their children is the outward request. What parents secretly expect out of their children is the inner expectation. Take for instance, a parents’ wish for their child to behave in school. That is their request. However, the parents secretly believe that it is in the nature of their child to misbehave, so they are expecting him to be naughty!

Child psychology is suggesting that the children pick up on this inconsistency. They are able to recognize this and struggle as they try to make sense of what would make their parent happy. In their eyes, the children may believe that fulfilling the expectations of the parent is ultimately what may make them happy. Therefore this would answer why some children choose to act in the direct opposite of the request by the parent (and actually doing exactly what the parent expected them to do). A mother recently asked me how I was able to help her daughter change her behaviour so quickly. My answer was simple. I did not expect her to be defiant. I did not expect her to be childish. I simply went in with the mindset that respected the opinion of the child and that she had the ability to talk maturely. Her automatic response was that she moved along with my expectations and our conversations were immediately and consistently mature and positive.


Steve Libreri is a social worker and parent coach within Willingness. He offers parent coaching and social work sessions. He can be contacted on

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