Part of the new series “Parenting for Success”
In January, I published a parenting post featuring Dr. Tim Elmore’s great insights on the 7 crippling parenting behaviors that keep children from growing into leaders. With more than 5.7 million views and growing, we know this piece struck a powerful chord among parents across the globe. Both Tim and I received hundreds of comments, emails, and questions from parents of all walks of life, asking how to apply these ideas into practice. Some parents disagreed, and also challenged our concept of “leadership” and asked, “Can’t we just let our children be who they are rather than make them into leaders?” (Great question.)
From my perspective, the goal is not to “force” our children to be anything they’re not, but instead, to foster, encourage and support them to be all they dream to be in the world. To do that, we need to understand some fundamentals about parenting behaviors that encourage growth, confidence and self-reliance, versus actions that stifle independence and critical thinking.
Offering the flip-slide of our previous piece on what NOT to do, Dr. Elmore has shared 9 parenting steps that will foster growth, confidence and leadership in teenage children:
Tim suggests parents help their children:
Take your teens with you to meet colleagues and help them find mentors. As my kids grew up, I included them on trips to meet with colleagues who I knew they’d benefit from meeting. At first, my children didn’t know how to respond, but eventually they learned to bring a pad to take notes. From these times, they found mentors they could contact and ask questions they may never feel comfortable asking mom or dad. It matured them and helped them think like leaders, and helped them obtain guidance and support outside of their parents.
Praise them for effort, concentration, action and strategies. Research shows that effective leaders possess a “growth mindset” not a “fixed mindset.” Instead of praising kids for their smarts or looks, affirm variables that are in their control, like hard work, or good strategy or honest words. This cultivates a healthy attitude that is open to taking calculated risks. It also prevents them from quitting or being afraid to fail or struggle.
While talent and intelligence are wonderful to possess, attitude is actually more important (and more impactful) than aptitude.
This step is paramount. Something great happens when our kids find a gift inside them that they can then turn it into something that adds value to others. And if they can monetize it, even better. Help them to do just that. A friend of mine said his three teens were lazy until last summer when he had them create a flyer listing jobs they could perform (and would enjoy doing) for neighbors. It worked. They were energized all summer and made some money too. They’ve been transformed. They are more entrepreneurial now than ever. This fostered work ethic and ingenuity.
Have them find challenging news topics that interest them, and determine how to respond. Research shows that schools and homes have failed to cultivate critical thinking skills in students. In my training with teens, I have kids watch the news or read a book that was full of conflict. As they recognized the dilemmas, I asked them to choose one challenge, then imagine what they’d do if they were in charge of solving it. We would discuss their strategy and learn from it. This exercise gives them vision, and teaches them that leaders earn their influence by solving problems and serving people.
This generation of kids (teens) spends more time with each other than with adults. They also spend more time on screens, diminishing face-to-face conversations. I believe we must equip kids to be “hosts” not just “guests” in life. Hold a party or social gathering for some of your friends (without their children) and ask your kids to help be hosts for the evening. Encourage them to learn to answer the door, take the coats, introduce guests to
each other, and serve them. This builds people and communication skills. At first, my children rolled their eyes at this idea, but later became very comfortable interacting with adults. They’re now both gainfully employed. When they’re old enough, have them host their own social gatherings as well, and assist in planning events at their school and other outside organizations, to further their planning, communication, and interpersonal relationship skills.
Invite them to help you pay the bills and choose where money goes. If kids aren’t exposed to the realities of life – such as how we keep the lights on in the house or having to choose between a new tablet or food for the remainder of the month – how are they going to learn them? I have a friend who is a mom to two teenage sons and she had them sit down with her at the computer to pay bills on-line. They quickly saw how much money it took to run a household—and as a result, they lighten up on asking for new phones. At times they had more days in the month left than money to pay everything off, so her boys helped choose what bills to pay now and which to pay later. This was a great reality check on finances, delayed gratification, and decision-making.
Genuine leadership qualities surface when kids are challenged to do something hard, and when they don’t shy away from possible failure. In our work with over 7,000 schools, I encourage kids to engage with underserved cultures and communities, to teach them to serve, support and problem-solve. In fact, ourHabitudes books, we use images to spark conversations and equip kids to learn to see life this way. With my own kids, we have visited impoverished neighborhoods nearby and developing nations too. This exposure is healthy and learning to serve is priceless. We make it an adventure. Children thrive at the opportunity to do things they feel important and meaningful, but
are also challenging and difficult to address, where there are no easy answers.
Many children are reading content online, and watching YouTube videos throughout the day. They are formulating their own opinions and views on all that they digest. This is rich food for thought that can be encouraged and built upon. Take your children to the movies, watch videos and read articles with them. Talk about the stories you see, and you’ll inevitably become engaged in conversation that helps them evaluate and analyze what took place and why. Help them build their critical thinking skills, and encourage the formulation of their own views. As young adults, they will automatically begin to think more deeply about life around them, and gain awareness of their own philosophy of what’s happening in film, media, and in the news, which helps them think deeply,
interpret experiences, and develop their own positive worldview.
Our culture naturally conditions us to be consumers, not always contributors. Help your children support a cause that is important to them. Few projects cultivate leadership and ambition like choosing a worthwhile cause outside their small sphere of influence, and finding a way to support it or raise money for it. This requires courage, planning, decision-making and people skills. Eventually, the fund raiser must do the “ask.” When kids do this, they develop all kinds of positive qualities, not the least of which is emotional intelligence. They learn to manage emotions—both theirs and those other people – and they learn to accept rejection and move on. While IQ is important, EQ is an even more important life skill.
To become the best, most successful parents we can be, we need to gain awareness of our actions and behaviors, which in turn generates greater choice in how we want to shape our children’s growth and future. You are your children’s first and most important role models – everything you say and do impacts their self-concept and their view of the world. Take the time today to explore your actions and revise them to ensure you are supporting your children to think and live as fully as possible, and are on the way to reaching their highest potential.