Blog Post | Managing Expectations So They Don't Manage You!


Managing Expectations So They Don't Manage You!


If you have an ADHD child you’ve likely experienced the consequences of expectation management or lack thereof. For people with ADHD, expectations are important. They are how we create order, how we cope in a world that doesn’t necessarily fit us very well. People with ADHD tend to put a lot of stock in expectations, so you can imagine how catastrophic it can be when it turns out reality does not align with those expectations. Misaligned expectations can lead to confusion, anxiety, and sometimes even a full-blown meltdown.

As a coach and as a person with ADHD, I have seen many times what happens when our expectations don’t hold up. Here are a few examples and how we as people with ADHD, or as parents or guardians of children with ADHD, can work to manage expectations better and mitigate the impacts when things don’t go according to plan:

Peter is a 13-year-old boy who loves flight simulators. He had been cultivating a love for flying for years. Recently, he researched for hours exactly which joystick system he was going to purchase for his new flight simulator. He dedicated months to saving his own money. Finally, the day came when the joystick was scheduled to arrive, and all would be right with the world. But Peter arrived home from school to find the package was delayed in transit. Quickly, delight turned to dread: his expectation of the controller arriving had not been met. 

Through coaching, Peter and I made an important discovery: Peter was not upset because he did not have his controller. The waiting wasn’t the problem. Peter confirmed that the thing that really upset him was that he had planned for the controller to arrive and was devastated when it turned out to not be the case. Peter and I talked about how next time, he could consider the importance of that expectation, what might happen if it wasn’t met, and how he might prepare himself or manage that expectation to help him keep control of his emotions if the expectation didn’t match reality.

Similarly, another teen client had spent all summer and fall looking forward to fat tire cycling that coming winter; he’d been counting down the days since last winter’s close of season. This year though, a new challenge presented itself: the onset of growing pains and the realization that those pains may impact his ability to participate in an upcoming cycling camp. The boy knew that if he got to the first day of camp only to discover he couldn’t ride as he expected, he would be heartbroken. To address this concern, we planned. Instead of building up a potentially unrealistic expectation, my client decided to get his bike out before camp and see how he felt. We also discussed what would help him cope with an inability to ride if that were to happen, and how would he manage his response to his expectation of biking being fun not being met. This thinking process is what allows people with ADHD to manage our expectations and have awareness of our emotions when those expectations are not met.

Even as a coach, I also fall victim to mismanaged expectations occasionally. I can recall a time when my wife and I went camping in Texas. We set up camp and went out for a day of hiking. I returned to the tent tired and ready for bed, expecting that the air mattress would be inflated and comfortable. My expectations were shattered when I found the air mattress had popped, and we had no plan B. To suggest my reaction was less than helpful would be an understatement. I hadn’t done any management of my expectations. I had developed no awareness of how my expectations not being met might impact our trip not only for me, but for my wife as well.  I learned my lesson though — one year later, on a second camping trip, we found ourselves in the same situation: stuck with an air mattress that wouldn’t stay inflated. This time, I was aware of my expectations and had a backup plan, so I was able to adjust without experiencing a meltdown.

As the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Life is not always going to go the way we want it to. We can’t control when our expectations don’t meet reality, but we can be prepared for the possibility, think about how to cope, and manage our emotions, and even be ready with a plan B. By practicing thinking through these kinds of things, people with ADHD can ensure that even when things don’t go our way, we can still make the best of things. 


Griffin Rouse
ADHD Coach | Center For Living Well with ADHD, LLC

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