Do You Need to Let Go of your SHOULDS?

Many parents of children that struggle developmentally or academically have a complicated relationship with the word SHOULD.

Usually the words SHOULD and SHOULDN’T pop up at some point when you begin to wonder if your child SHOULD be doing something that they are not doing.

SHOULDN’T he be reading by now?

SHOULD she get so upset when I leave?

SHOULDN’T she be able to get up in the morning and get ready for school with out a meltdown?

SHOULDN’T she be able to ride a bike?

SHOULDN’T he be able to sit still at dinner?

And so on, and so on…

Often a parent or a teacher will make an observation and begin to wonder about what a child should or shouldn’t do.  An observation leads to questions.  Questions lead to experts, evaluations, diagnoses, plans and meetings.

The words SHOULD and SHOULDN’T become embedded in our view of the world.

When your children fall behind where they SHOULD be, it raises a lot of anxiety.  Anxiety is good in some ways.  It moves us to action to get support, find resources and to figure out how to raise children with different learning and social styles.

But SHOULDS create a lot of relentless anxiety and stress. Anxiety that does not serve us or our children.

Often, our  SHOULDS are about our personal rules about the world.  Rules we do not necessarily even know that we have.

 They are the HAVE TOs of our lives that may or may not align with the reality.

 We all have SHOULDS for our children. We all have SHOULDS for our daily life.  They represent our expectations and our hopes and our dreams. They represent what we were taught by our own parents about how to get though each day.

 He SHOULD make his bed.

He SHOULD eat different foods every morning for breakfast.

He SHOULD wear sneakers to school. 

He SHOULD know how to read by now.  He SHOULD do better at math. She SHOULD behave better at church.

When your children struggle with learning differences or social differences or emotional regulation or attentional difficulties, they are often not able to live up to our expectations.  They often cannot easily navigate the daily demands of life with a lot of support.

 Understanding our SHOULDs and how they create stress and anxiety is an important step in finding a path toward a calmer happier family life.

 Letting go of the SHOULDS is often the first step of managing our stress.

 It is often the first part of simplifying things for our family so we can prioritize what is most important right now.

 Sometimes, our SHOULDS are based on our own deep emotional needs from our own childhood.  

Most therapist, no matter what type of therapy they practice, listen carefully when someone starts throwing around the word SHOULD a lot.  The word SHOULD is a red flag that something or someone is causing your client a lot of stress and pain.

Often a SHOULD leaves a trail of distress when we think about letting it go, even temporarily.  Even in the service of meeting our children where they are at and building the skills for potential future success. When this happens it is our internal work as parents to sort out what is truly important and necessary at any particular moment. It is our work as parents to understand why we are in distress.

Letting go is not letting go forever…  in fact, creating calm reducing stress may actually get us closer to all those other goals.  But it can feel like a disaster in the moment.

Letting go is about thinking about what your actual child can handle right now.

It is making a plan for your particular situation that works for your child and for you.

Letting go of what you SHOULD expect as a parent and embracing what is possible right now helps us be fully present to our children.  It helps us make a plan to get where we want to go.  And it helps us accept who are children are today.

7 Responses to “Do You Need to Let Go of your SHOULDS?”

  1. Ann Becker-Schutte (@DrBeckerSchutte) Says:


    This is a powerful message for so many of us (parents and not). It seems to me that the “shoulds” are often tangled up in our shame stories, and releasing them is part of increasing our self-compassion and resilience.


  2. Allison Says:

    Thank you Ann for your helpful comment. And thank you for connecting it the the theme of self-compassion and resilience which is what we are all searching for… Warmly, Allison

  3. Dan Bolton Says:

    Great reminder for all of us Allison. I find that when I am thinking in the SHOULD frame with my son it starts to negatively affect my relationship with him. My son is disabled, and though can do a great deal in spite of his disability, is just never going to be able to do some of what our society thinks children SHOULD be able to do. I find both he and I are so much happier when I can let go of the SHOULDS and be with him where he is at and allow him to grow and learn at his own pace. Our society focuses SO much on performance and it is really not good for many many kids, even those that aren’t disabled… Too many SHOULDS!

  4. Allison Says:

    Thank you Dan, so much for your comment. I agree all children could benefit from letting go of the focus on performance not just kids that are struggling in some way. And when I can let go of my SHOULDS then I stop getting in my own way with my children.

  5. Balance Roundup 14 November 2013 | Ann Becker-Schutte, Ph.D. Says:

    […] Allison Andrews writes for parents of quirky kids, but her post about the “shoulds” we all subject ourselves to is useful to parents of all kids–or people who […]

  6. Allison Says:

    Thank you Ann, for your kind words and including me in your roundup.

  7. Balance Roundup–14 November 2013 Says:

    […] Allison Andrews writes for parents of quirky kids, but her post about the “shoulds” we all subject ourselves to is useful to parents of all kids–or people who […]

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