Raising Leaders: Developing Leadership Skills in Children
Teaching leadership skills to children is a key part of parenting. Learn how to help your child develop effective leadership skills.
Parents write: We worry about our children's eagerness to follow the crowd rather than lead. This has caused some serious problems at school and within the community. Can you offer some suggestions on raising leaders?
Why Developing Leadership Skills Is Important For Your Children
Leadership skills can make the difference between a child who thoughtlessly follows the arrogant will of the majority vs. the trailblazer who obeys their own moral principles and sensible convictions. Both children take markedly different paths in life; the former submerges aspects of their emerging identity while the latter flourishes with enhanced self-esteem and opportunity. Much to parents' chagrin, followers stumble in the face of peer pressure and risky temptation, and are often lacking in vital decision-making and self-assertion skills.
Tips for Raising Leaders By Teaching Leadership Skills To Children
Some children seem destined to become leaders due to their out-spoken and confident nature. Others require the capable coaching of alert and prepared parents. Here are some tips for helping children develop leadership skills:
Blend but don't bend. Many children walk the tightrope between their parents' guidance on the one hand, and their peer group's influence on the other. Tilting too much in one direction can trigger peer ridicule or parent prohibitions. The challenge is for them to blend in with peer culture without their principles bending in the face of pressure. Parents are urged to discuss how peer pressure creeps into individual decision making. Emphasize the importance of establishing a boundary line between blending and bending. Draw a wide circle on a page to represent this line. Identify acceptable blending behaviors as inside the circle and undesirable ones as outside. Propose hypothetical peer situations to get children thinking about this boundary and how they might reinforce the strength of their convictions.
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Stress how leadership is built upon conscientious initiative. Children tend to "gravitate toward the behavioral mean" in the presence of their peers. This translates into a more passive observing role that avoids principled risk taking. As events unfold around them, thoughtful opinions and measured reactions are suppressed for fear of peer disapproval. Empathize with their reluctance to speak up and stand out without downplaying the chilling effects of peer scorn. Suggest that most of their peers travel the "easy unnoticed road" and would admire their leadership stance. "You may be surprised to discover that others have similar thoughts and aspirations but are held back by their fears and apprehensions," is one way to get the message across.
Confident and assertive self-expression is a critical ingredient. Another avenue to coach leadership skills is verbal expression. Unfortunately, some still subscribe to the parenting belief that children should be seen and not heard. Discard this nonsense unless you want to stunt your child's life success. When kids overstep the boundaries of respect don't just discipline but give them the words to convey their disagreements with poise and deftness. "A better way to say that would be 'Dad, I don't agree with your decision and want you to listen to what I have to say,'" is one example of how to turn a problematic behavior into an opening to coach self-assertiveness.
Pursue leadership opportunities. Adulthood offers a host of places to lead. Look out for situations that expose needs and neglect where your own knowledge and skills could be especially valuable. Speak with your children about how volunteering one's help and expertise builds a well-rounded person. Share stories of your contacts and involvement so they can learn about leadership in action.
About Dr. Steven Richfield: Known as "The Parent Coach," Dr. Richfield is a child psychologist, parent/teacher trainer, author of "The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society" and creator of the Parent Coaching Cards.
Last Updated: 30 July 2014
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD