Coaching leadership for kids in a world full of peer pressure is never an easy task – but it can be accomplished.
Parents write: “We worry about our child's eagerness to follow the crowd rather than to stand up and lead. This has caused some serious problems at school and within the community. Can you offer some suggestions on how to raise young leaders?”
Developing leadership skills early can make the difference between a child who thoughtlessly follows the arrogant will of the majority versus the trailblazer who obeys their own moral principles and sensible convictions.
Both types of children take markedly different paths in life; some submerges aspects of their natural identity, while others flourish with enhanced self-esteem and confidence.
Much to parents' chagrin, kids who are followers tend to quickly cower in the face of peer pressure and risky temptation. They are often lacking in vital decision-making and self-assertion skills.
Leadership for kids comes more naturally to a few. 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 helpful tips for coaching leadership for kids:
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 key 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.
When teaching leadership for kids, propose hypothetical peer situations to get children thinking about their moral boundaries and how they might address situations that they are faced with in the future that threaten these boundaries.
Emphasize how leadership for kids is developed through thoughtful initiative. Being passive and simply following the crowd leaves kids open to all kinds of outside influences. Kids need to be assertive enough to speak their minds when necessary in order to protect their ideals.
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. Their reluctance to speak up or take action may be hindered if they are not armed with the insights that come from these conversations with parents or other responsible adults.
Explain to your child that most of their peers travel the "easy unnoticed road" and will admire the person who takes a leadership stance. Say something like, "You may be surprised to discover that others have similar thoughts and aspirations but are held back by their fears and apprehensions."
Confident and assertive self-expression is a critical ingredient when coaching leadership for kids.
Another necessary ingredient for teaching kids leadership skills is to encourage their 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 personal growth and leadership development.
When a youngster oversteps the boundaries of respect don't just discipline the child. Rather, give her the words to convey her disagreements with poise and precision. "A better way to say that would be 'Dad, I respect your position but I don't agree with your decision and want you to listen to what I have to say."
The above statement is one simple example of how to turn a problematic behavior into an opening to coach self-assertiveness and leadership for kids.
Kids need to recognize and pursue leadership opportunities. Adulthood offers a host of places to lead. Be on the look out for situations where your own knowledge and skills could be especially valuable.
Speak with your children about how volunteering one's time and expertise builds character and develops a better-rounded person.
Most importantly, when teaching leadership for kids - lead by example. Share stories often of your own process for decision making. Tell your children about your past mistakes so that they might learn without having to duplicate the same errors and suffer the same consequences.
Assist your child by providing contacts and leadership opportunities for community involvement so they can learn about leadership in action.
Parents who are teaching leadership for kids, should see this important task as a basic expectation of parenting. The importance of developing our children into assertive, productive and thoughtful individuals cannot be overstated.
The best gift you can give your child is a solid foundation – complete with a clear direction and the self-discipline necessary for reaching their dreams.
Dr. Steven Richfield is a child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA. He has developed a child-friendly, self-control/social skills building program called Parent Coaching Cards. He is the author of the book, The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society. He can be contacted at www.parentcoachcards.com or 610-238-4450
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