5 Ways to Inspire Leadership in Children
My stepdaughters are polar opposites. One is brave, outgoing, inquisitive and loves to make friends wherever she goes. She also isn’t afraid to speak her mind or tell others what she thinks. Then, there’s my other stepdaughter — quiet, clever, follows the crowd and is rather introverted. She steals quick glances around the room, remaining hushed, and feigning disinterest while listening to and absorbing everything.
While both girls have personality strengths, they — like all children — also each have traits that need to be further developed. That’s where we (parents, parent-figures, guardians and other adults) come in. I often find myself trying to find ways that allow both girls the freedom to be themselves while also redirecting their behavior. It is important for us to help mold the personality traits we see in our children, to bring them from the too spirited or too shy to right back in the middle.
We have to teach our children how to find the balance between staying true to themselves while also challenging them to grow. Through these challenges, we help our children learn adaptability, effectiveness, self-control, kindness, assertiveness, and how to better manage themselves and their influence on others.
However, trying to get a child to move out of his or her comfort zone is no easy task. After all, the concepts of intentional decision-making and personal development are things with which even adults struggle. But, don’t be discouraged: it’s possible!
The following five tips are ways in which we can inspire leadership skills in children:
1. Be a role model: If we lead well, our kids will follow. Being a role model for our children is not about being perfect. It’s about being genuine and showing them accountability through the good, the bad and the ugly while also dialoguing and working through life, career and personal challenges. By allowing our kids to be active, reflective and engaged at an age-appropriate level, they can learn effective leadership.
2. Encourage responsibility: It’s important to teach children about the importance of work and allow them to carry out the responsibilities of a role within the home, school or community that they can take pride in. Whether a child oversees setting out or collecting lap counters at the beginning or end of a Girls on the Run practice, making sure their classmates have sharpened pencils before a test, or is responsible for planning and organizing the weekly family game night, having an early job teaches children to focus on prioritizing what’s important but also have fun and feel fulfilled at the same time.
3. Implement goal-setting: At Girls on the Run, each 10-week season concludes with a celebratory 5K event where girls get to participate in and complete a 5K they set a goal to finish at the beginning of the season. Encouraging goals gives children something to work towards that they can manage in increments. It is also important to teach children to think positively about their goals, as optimism tends to lead to more successful outcomes.
4. Don’t hover: As caretakers and adults, we hate to see children struggle. However, challenges provide learning opportunities for children. We don’t always have to come to the rescue! What we should do is make sure we are providing a safe space where children can apply reasoning and emotional intelligence on their own — a place where we can help guide them with reflection and questions, inquiring about ways our children could have done something differently.
5. Teach the art of negotiation: It is important to teach our children that they have don’t have to accept everything presented to them. The ability to compromise will help children advocate for themselves. By allowing kids to submit counteroffers (with supplemental points) to requests within the home, classroom or community, they also learn the power of an agreement.