When my youngest was in first grade, her class took a behind-the-scenes field trip to a local pizza joint. Before they were allowed to make their own pizzas, they all had to take turns washing their hands. I still remember watching my youngest get in front of some of the kids to take her turn. She wasn’t being physically pushy, exactly, but was asserting her position in line. I instantly told her something to the effect of let the other students go first, don’t be pushy, etc. Then quickly her first-grade teacher turned politely to me and said, “It’s OK, let her be a little aggressive.”
At first, her comment put me off a little, but then I gave it more thought. From a very young age, I’ve consistently instructed my daughters to not be bossy, pushy, boisterous, etc. Of course, although I still advise my girls to be considerate of others, I also feel I need to need to balance that advice by emphasizing the importance of speaking up, asking questions and asserting oneself. I also want to ensure that my message of being polite and thoughtful isn’t construed as meaning to always defer to and follow others, especially in harmful situations.
I’m a total believer in the phrase: “Leaders are not born but are made.” Through all this leadership talk and guidance with my kids, I’m not saying my goal is necessarily to groom them to be CEOs, presidents or the like in the future. But instead, my goal is for them to know they have an important voice – a voice that cannot only help themselves, but possibly others. Not to mention, gaining leadership skills can help not only a child’s self-esteem, but also communication and interpersonal abilities.
A great place to approach the topic of kids and leadership is by discussing with your child what it means to be a good leader. What qualities does a good leader possess? Honesty? Empathy? Courage? What are some example scenarios in which leadership skills were used? Who are some famous leaders they admire, and why?
Another productive exercise is to analyze potential situations with your child to see how they would handle them. For example, what would they do if they knew someone was being bullied at their school? What would they do if their friends were pressuring them to do something they knew was wrong? The way your children choose to handle these scenarios and the decisions they make will require independent-thinking, strength and assertiveness – all qualities gained through learning leadership skills.
Your kids can also get involved in volunteer projects – either by coming up with an idea themselves of what or whom they would like to help, or by joining a cause that they feel connected and drawn to. They will learn not only about helping with community efforts and leading others toward a common goal, but also about how their efforts can make a difference.
Also encourage your child to exercise their communication skills on a regular basis — not only speaking up when they have a point to make or questions to ask, but also articulating how they feel and carefully listening to others. Hand in hand with this practice is reminding your child to not spend a lot of time worrying about what their peers think (and say) about them, instead valuing themselves on what they think, feel and want to say.
Learning to take responsibility at home, as well as making some decisions themselves (within reason), are great exercises to help instill leadership in your child. Within the safe boundaries of their home and family environments, they can see the impact of the responsibilities they take on and how they can help the family overall. In addition, your kids can see the consequences of when wrong decisions made.
What’s also important through all these exercises is for us parents to set the examples. Let your kids see how you live your life with honesty, integrity and assertiveness. Take on volunteer work at their school or work on a committee or volunteer group that your child can get involved in as well. Most of all, show how speaking out and practicing leadership skills can be a powerful, satisfying and fulfilling exercise that extends from childhood far into adulthood.