Walk into a room full of toddlers and you’ll immediate spot the ring leader. One surfaces, or should I say self appoints. It’s kinda hilarious to watch this one little tyke barking “run, horse, run”, “now, cook on the stove”, “NO! Turtle wears this dress.” Oh, to view order from a toddler’s lens. C’mon, you’ve seen her, right? Miss Bossypants. She’s a natural.
Or is she?
The best thing about watching toddlers try on the cloak of leadership is that they all share, equally, in the role. Oh, there might be negotiating, but in a group children will play the follower, leader, victim, perpetrator…it’s what they do. Trying on for size what fits and what doesn’t.
As adults, we think of leadership as an innate quality. That someone is a born leader. Only children aren’t little adults. For children, there is an opportunity to coax out leadership qualities in even the most demure wall flowers among us. Mostly this is true because I’m talking about a different kind of leader than “top dawg” leader.
So on our country’s birthday, I’ll turn to John Quincy Adams, eldest son of Founding Father John Adams and 6th US President – so no slouch in the leadership department. I like his definition of leadership because it doesn’t smack of the “ain’t I great” attitude many leaders fall victim too.
Adams gets at the heart of something more intrinsic, more attainable and let’s face it, less intimidating. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” (BTW, wanna check out how to teach citizenship, too? Fitting for today, no?)
I watched this TED talk – y’all know I’m addicted to TED talks, right? – by Drew Dudley and it made me realize that I’m a world leader, too. How cool is that? Of course, I’m a leader of my own world and, as megomaniacal as that sounds, it rings true. Like being the author of my life. The world that is out there actually starts with right here. My world. Your world. The immediate environment you inhabit and steward.
If you agree that leadership involves valuing the impact we have on the lives of other people, then teaching leadership to young-uns is actually pretty simple. It’s something we do every day as parents, even if you don’t realize it. We model leadership by being responsible, reliable and trustworthy. We set high standards for ourselves and our kids.
Of course, and this goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway, there are inspiring standards and oppressive standards and I’m not talking about channeling your inner Tiger Mom here.
Leadership stems from responsibility and integrity. Ways to promote those in your children:
1. Housework. For those of you out there who save housework until little Johnny goes to sleep, STOP! Children love cleaning and while they may inadvertently make more of a mess than you would while you clean, they’ll learn so much about responsibility, being part of a family unit and the feeling of accomplishment. Make them a cleaning kit with a cloth, a spray (could be water, could be an all natural spray) and a feather duster. Your house will sparkle, dust free, like never before!!!!!
2. Natural consequences. If they spill the milk, have them clean it up and say, “When we make a mess, we clean it up.” Doing the work for them (cleaning) and
bitching about it lecturing about being careful doesn’t teach responsibility. It teaches shame and guilt.
There are so many ways to discuss natural consequences! Maybe this part would best be expanded in the comments section where we can talk in specifics?
3. Selective permission. Try this – instead of telling your child “no,” give them the go ahead to do something (other than the behavior you object to) elsewhere. Like, “We don’t jump on the couch, we jump in the jumping station” (and put a pillow on the floor). “Carrots don’t go up your nose silly, they go in the mouth.” It’s all about inspiring the correct behavior, which is what leadership is all about.
4. Simplify. Go pull all your kid’s toys together, put them in a pile. I mean ALL of them. Then weed out 1/2. Then…weed out 1/2 again! Keep a small pile of beloved toys – ones that promote activity (building, sorting, coloring), ones that promote nurturing (dolls, stuffies), ones that promote open creativity (fabric, clothes pins, yarn, rope).
When kids have too many toys to choose from, none are special. Less here is more because your child will have to fully respect and nurture what they have, not toss them aside and have his attention bounce from one toy to the next. (From Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne). You are actively breaking the habit of entitlement, a feeling that eats away at true leadership.
5. Pick up trash. You know, there is litter all around us. It seriously bums me out. A simple act of picking something up off the street even if you didn’t put it there goes a long way in teaching stewardship. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do. Participate in a beach clean up day. Or park clean up day. Or organize a neighborhood clean up.
I love this notion that leadership lives inside us at any moment, for any occasion. Especially since I’m shy myself and don’t consider myself all leader-y. But this….this I can get behind. What about you?
Previous Character Lessons: Citizenship, Fairness, Integrity, Kindness, Wisdom, Love of Learning, Bravery, Open Mindedness, Curiosity, Creativity, Patience, Humor, Hope, Love, Gratitude, Zest, Social Intelligence, Self Control, Grit
photo credit: jimbowen0306