From the beginning of the third term, Grade 9 learners are often inundated with the task of deciding which school subjects they would like to take leading up to Grade 12 and a lot of considerations come into play at this point of a child’s schooling career. Learners are encouraged to pick subjects based on the prerequisites for their future. However, leading up to this moment are the earlier stages of learners figuring out their subject strengths and interests. Parents have influence in steering their children in the right direction in this regard and in most cases, their children’s decisions when it comes to school subjects tend to be clouded by their parents’ expectations and personal ambitions.

Although as a parent you may be well-meaning but trying to fulfil your expectations at the expense of your child’s freedom of choice and happiness could be short-sighted. We see this within the school context, where you might have dreams for your child to be in a profession you did not get to be in. 

So, how should you as a parent manage your expectations from your child on subjects that are not their competency? We unpack this with Cindy Glass, Founder of Step-Up Education Center as well as educator Vuyani Mboyisa, who shares insights on his experience with school pupils.

Ways In Which Parents Impose Their Expectations On Children

Most times as parents, we want what is best for our children but sometimes, that desire can lead to unintentionally living your childhood through them. Mboyisa explains that as a teacher, he has observed what informs a learner’s choice of subjects, especially in Grade 9. “A few factors come into play such as the combinations of subjects, specifically in High School. For example, Economics comes with Accounting, and if a child doesn’t like one subject, but excels in the other, they may have to compromise or drop the subject they prefer mainly because of that”.

Mboyisa says the fear of numbers also contributes greatly. “Sometimes, you will find that other learners fear subjects with numbers such as Maths and Accounting. I’ve had parents come to personally change their children’s subjects and insist they proceed with those specific subjects”, he explains.

He highlights that parent tend to influence children based on the following:

  • Fears or perceptions of certain subjects. For example, parents may perceive a subject to be too difficult for their child and encourage them to go for ‘easier’ subjects. For example, dropping Maths for Maths Literacy. 
  • Personal strengths in the subjects. They may assume that if they excelled in a subject when they were in school, surely their child can do so. 
  • Preparing them for their future. At times, parents tend to steer their children into considering professions that require certain subjects. For example, imposing Maths and Science so that they can consider being in the medical field.

What Expectations Communicate To Your Child

According to Cindy, parental expectations that do not align with your child’s interests and dreams communicates that their dreams do not matter and that they are incapable of achieving their own goals. 

“Self- esteem and self-worthiness can be diminished to the point where they give up or simply remain resigned to what they may feel is simply their fate.”

Parents also need to work on themselves internally to effectively influence their child’s schoolwork without overbearingly driving them into self-esteem deficiency due to expectations in subjects that they are not doing well in.

“Although it may be rare, therapy may be helpful if you are finding that your expectations are hurting your child and that you are struggling to find the tools to change the way you manage these expectations. Therapy would need to focus on healing the parent’s past wounds of self-harming thoughts and beliefs”, says Cindy. 

Keep Your Expectations In Check

“Many parents have lived their lives never having achieved their personal dreams and this often makes them feel driven to push their children to fulfill those dreams, even if these are not in alignment with their children’s talents or interests” explains Cindy.

She shares the following steps to managing your expectations:

Steps To Managing Expectations:
  1. Ask yourself whose dream it is that you are wanting your child to fulfil. If your child pushes back and shows little interest in another subject, provide the support they need. 
  2. Understand that there is a remarkable difference between encouraging your child to achieve success and pushing them to meet expectations you have set for them. 
  3. Motivate them to be the best that they can be and inspire them to overcome obstacles.  

Signs That Your Child Is Under Pressure Due To Parental Expectations

Cindy indicates that many times, parents may be in denial or may not see how their expectations harm children. “The behaviour that children display, whether positive or negative, speaks of how they are feeling about themselves and their place in the world. We’ve seen how a lot of people end up in jobs that they do not enjoy. Life is truly short and should be lived to its fullest. One cannot achieve this with a low self-esteem and perhaps even a sense of built-up resentment and anger towards our parents.”

Children who feel undervalued, unacknowledged or under too much pressure can display the following:

  • anxiety,
  • stress,
  • anger,
  • defiance, or
  • withdrawal 

“Parents need to understand that their greatest challenge is not to help their children achieve academically. It is to help their children understand their own value, help them grow in confidence in the face of challenges and to teach them to have a resilient growth mindset. With these tools, your child will achieve remarkable success in the career choice that makes them feel happy and fulfilled. Focus on those life skills and allow your child to follow the path that excites them most,” says Cindy.

Mboyisa concludes by advising parents to focus on their children’s passions by finding out what they are good at, encouraging and guiding them. Identify your child’s personality and character traits so that you can have an idea what kind of career would suit that character. Help them take a personality test should they feel stuck.

Wrapping Up

Children are born unique and should be treated as such. Their potential is unlimited. 

“Everyone is doing the best that they know how with the knowledge that they have at that moment. We cannot change what we do not acknowledge. Parents need to know that their role as a parent is unbelievably challenging. Their job is not to live their dreams through their children. Their job is to provide their children with the tools and skills needed so that they can confidently navigate their own paths. Therein lies your pride as a parent. Raising good people with strong values who aim at their dreams and work to achieve them- with you cheering them on”, Cindy concludes. 

Cindy Glass is working on a platform called Kollide and has integrated Step-Up remediation programmes. Visit for more information