Earlier this week I did a craft with my daughter. It wasn’t my idea, and admittedly I wasn’t terribly excited to do it. But she wanted to, and I went along with it. She told me what she wanted me to create, which materials to use, and how we could divide the work between us to use our individual strengths. If you asked her, she could not have put her actions into those exact words, because she didn’t realize that was what she was doing. But still, that’s what was happening.
True leaders need experience in leading. That means we need to let them lead sometimes. And if we let them lead, we need to give up some of our control.
As children get older, we expect them to take on more responsibilities; but how can they succeed without us letting go? If we, as parents, are constantly controlling every minute detail in our child’s life, how will they ever learn how to lead?
If I had insisted on doing the craft MY way, and ME making the decisions, it would have been a less enjoyable activity for us both. And it would not be teaching her how to lead.
I want my children to be leaders, and that is why, when I see that they are ready, I loosen the reigns a little bit–and then a little more–and then a little more. The more I let go, the more they are able to take on more responsibilities.
But notice I said “a little bit”. Kids are still, well, kids. They don’t have the maturity to completely raise themselves. This is a process. It is something to be done gradually, taking into account the individual child’s abilities. I wouldn’t expect my five-year-old to have the same responsibilities as my seven-year-old. And as my seven-year-old gets older, I would expect her responsibilities and abilities to expand and develop.
And I don’t give her carte blanche control over our time together. The best leaders are ones that listen to suggestions and don’t insist on their own way all the time. So I help her to listen to her “followers” as she is leading by giving her ideas and providing helpful feedback.
So what does that look like, in a practical sense?
- Give kids clear expectations. Let them exercise their responsibility muscles by giving small tasks around the house. Helping you with a chore, giving them ownership of a certain area, keeping them accountable to your requirements.
- Then, let go (a little bit). Don’t let go completely; still give them reminders and prompts, still keep track. But once they’ve learned the skill, and you’ve told them it is “theirs”, they can then be expected to do it without (much) hand-holding.
- Give them the opportunity to lead. Let them direct your play time, or design a craft, or plan a dinner menu. Give them some small things that they can do to “take control”, and (you) practice being a good follower. Let them be the leader.
- Praise them for taking the lead. When you see them directing clean-up (not in a mean way, but in a positive leadership way) when friends are over, or when you are letting them give directions for a game, or when you see them taking ownership of their chores, praise them! Let them know–in words–that you admire their leadership and appreciate their hard work.
Of course, this isn’t a guarantee, and it’s not a strict set of rules. It’s a basic list of ideas to inspire you to encourage leadership in your children. Be creative in how you help your children develop their leadership skills. Some kids will be ready earlier than others, and some have natural leadership skills while others don’t. But whether they are “destined” to be leaders or not, they will at least be filled with confidence and more ready to accept responsibility.