“Mommy, I’m not a leader.”
Why do you say that?
“Because John is the one that tells us what to do on the playground and we follow him. So that makes me a follower.”
Ugh. Tricky. I’m not impressed by John’s “leadership.” I want my son (and all young children) to see kindness, listening, understanding, and caring about other people as important leadership qualities.
We must stop trying to over-simplify leadership for our kids. Being picked to be “line leader” at school, Mother May I, Simon says… all involve telling. Children learn to do what mommy, daddy, and teachers say. Sure, we want kids who listen and follow directions. But even young children can learn servant leadership.
8 Ways to Nurture Leadership in Children Under 8
Start with lots of love and building self-esteem. Too many grown-ups with power mess things up because they’re still dealing with childhood muck. Be a role model, and know they’re always watching. Beyond that, here are a few deliberate approaches for building leadership in young children.
- Teach them to give – Involve them in volunteer activities and talk about the “why” as much as the “what.” Help them look for needs in everyday situations, and to consider how they can improve the scene. Help young children find joy in giving and call it leadership.
- Talk to them like grown-ups – Young children are smarter than they look. Talk about current events. An 8-year-old may not need to know all the political issues involved with healthcare. But in our house we’ve had some pretty good conversations about what’s going on and why. Get them started, and kids can ask some pretty good “whys.”
- Give them a say in some family decisions – Pick some decisions where you don’t need control. Invite your young children to brainstorm creative options. Encourage each family member to listen to one another’s viewpoints before deciding as a family.
- Nurture a love of reading – Read together and talk about the characters and relationships in the stories. For a list of great books to read with your young children click here.
- Bring them along and give them a role – Kid’s love to see mommy and daddy in action. My older son’s now 19, I’ve brought him along to all kinds of places. I’ve explained what I’m doing and why. I’ve given him “important roles.” I’ve enjoyed watching him apply the skills he’s learned in the arenas he’s now leading. See A Great Way to Teach Your Kids About Leadership.
- Admit when you screw up – Talk about your leadership mess-ups. Kid’s need to know that leaders aren’t perfect, and that mistakes are all part of their learning.
- Hang out with other leaders – So they can see leaders are regular people too. Dinner guests can be fun for the whole family.
- Teach them to craft and deliver a great prayer (or toast) at family gatherings – When he was younger, I would help my son prepare group gathering prayers. “Let’s talk about why we’re gathered and what people may want God to hear.” Now I just give my 8-year-old the whisper that he’s going to be “on” and I’m amazed at what he comes up with. If your family is not into prayers, it works for meaningful toasts too.