Leadership Is Influence
Everything rises and falls on leadership, and leadership is all about influence. Kids are never too young to be taught these principles. By teaching our kids how to lead themselves well, we can give them the coping skills to handle the situations that they face every day. In order to do that, we must first teach them integrity. And you guessed it - the way to teach/influence/lead them is by modeling it ourselves! Setting up a strong moral code for them gives kids the foundational beliefs that will guide them through their entire lives. Very simply, teach them what you believe and teach them by your example. Kids watch their parents and learn by imitation, rather than by memorization. It's the old "do as I say, not as I do" thing that we need to be careful of here. Hopefully, they will begin positively influencing their peers as well by acting with integrity.
Choices Determine Character
Helping kids build character is another important part of teaching them about leadership. "Character" is the accumulation of qualities that make us dependable and trustworthy. Things like honesty and integrity are the keys to good character. It is that concept of doing the right thing even when no one is watching. They will see that, by being honest, people will learn to trust them - Mom and Dad included. Another good character behavior to model is keeping your word. When they see you follow through with plans or promises, they will know that it is an expected behavior. Teach them to do what they say they will do.
Character, and life in general, is a product of the choices we make. This applies to adults and children. Teaching kids to listen to their inner voice can be challenging if you're trying to do it out of context. Look for "teachable moments" with your kids and it can be a lot simpler. When you witness someone else making a poor choice, you can use that opportunity to discuss what they would do in the same situation and talk about possible outcomes. Maybe it was your not-so-great choice that you can discuss with them - a traffic violation, for example. Or maybe you were the bully in school and you can teach them what not to do. I tell kids the story of going back and apologizing to the kids I made fun of in junior high because as an adult I finally realized the impact of my stupid behavior, and even though it was years later, I wanted to make things right. We have to teach our kids to accept responsibility for their own actions, and teach them the self-discipline to make good choices. Everyone makes mistakes, but how we recover that mistake is important - owning up and apologizing when we have made a bad choice is a sign of good character.
Lift Up, Stand Up, Pick Up
We frequently hear news reports about kids being bullied. Some leading to terrible tragedies, like suicide and severe beatings or even death. There are three really simple principles to teach your kids that can help them deal with various interpersonal situations - and teach them how NOT to be the bully. First of all, kids need to use their words to Lift Up others. Words are very powerful and can emotionally tear another person down. They can also build a person up! Encourage them to use them to Lift Up others and celebrate their good attributes and support them! Offensive language, put downs - or insults, and threats of pay back are all typical tactics used by bullies. Remind them how bad it feels when they are spoken to in this way and help them understand other's feel just as bad when they do it to them.
Empower your kids with the knowledge that leadership is influence - and that they have influence - and you empower your child to Stand Up to bullies on behalf of themselves and others. Statistics show that, in most cases, if someone says something in the first five seconds, the bullying will stop. If kids are confident in their leadership skills, they will be confident enough to help someone who is being bullied. By teaching them all of these skills and empowering them to believe in their own leadership abilities, you can help your son or daughter Pick Up someone who is being bullied.
Here are some ideas to implement at home to help kids develop values and make decisions based on those values:
- Ask them to write down the top five character traits and qualities of a GOOD friend.
- Ask them to write down the top five character traits and qualities of a BAD friend.
- Ask them to share their lists (you can make a list, too!) Then discuss ways to implement the good traits and get rid of the bad traits - at home and school. This is also a good exercise to help determine a plan for "family values"!
- Have regular discussions with your kids about how they were able to make good choices based on the lists you created together. Ask them often if and how they were able to Stand Up and Lift Up! (Meals are a great time for these conversations!)
- Help kids come up with phrases that are respectful but that will help them stand up for themselves and others. “Hey, that really hurts my feelings when you call me a nerd, and I would like it if you didn’t do that anymore.” “That is not nice to call people names, I really don’t think it’s cool that you call Sally fat or Jim ugly, etc”
- Bullying usually starts with words! Encourage your kids to use their words to Lift Up and Stand Up! They will be able to lead themselves and their classmates by being a good example.
P.S. Bullies grow up and go into the workforce! All of these tips apply to us as well. We can show strong character, we can lead ourselves and our teams to do the right thing - Lift Up, Stand Up and Pick Up others at work, too!
I'd love to know how you're preparing your kids to be little leaders this school year. Do you talk with them about character, bullying and leadership? If so, share with us your recommendations in the comments!