At what point are we willing to transfer leadership to our children? It’s an important question because if we want them to be functioning adults, our children will need to lead themselves. When are they prepared to do this and how do we prepare them? John Rosemond once said, only one person can be concerned about grades. Parents, if that’s you, it won’t be your student. Shifting this responsibility of their performance to the student is what gives them the opportunity to practice managing themselves. Small failures build awareness. Our desire to ’help’ interferes with their learning experience. How do kids become better problem solvers? They solve more problems.
Leaning by Experience
For those of you who don’t know, we have several pets. Three dogs and 8 chickens at the moment but it’s been as high as 5 dogs, a cat and 10 chickens. All dogs are rescued but two of them run together, Maverick and Einstein. Einstein is an 8-year-old Australian Kelpie who runs the property and Maverick arrived from Mississippi State as my son was passing through on his way to Athens, GA. Maverick is a clingy 18-month-old pit bull who has personal space issues and an abundance of affection.
Maverick has a tendency to run off into the woods chasing who knows what. Einstein goes with him on occasion, which makes my trip into the woods required. Recently, Maverick took off in his impulsive fashion, followed shortly thereafter by Einstein, which required me to track them down. The afternoon hike was not on my list, rather I was trying to get out the door so this was quite a nuisance. As I traipsed through the woods imagining myself on an ops mission tipping and falling, calling to no avail, I would stop to listen for them to head in the right direction.
Eventually Einstein returned first with Mav keeping his distance at a 20’ perimeter still trying to play chase while Einstein cowered as he was scolded and heeled as we turned for home. At some point, I must have paused to get my bearings and noticed that Einstein had moved from healing to 4 yards ahead of me. He took a sharp left and kept looking back to check I was with him on a trail that is perfect if you’re 3 feet, not 5 feet tall. Seeing Einstein ahead of me and leading me in another direction helped me realize I was heading in the wrong direction. Knowing the woods much better than I and also seeing that I was off track, Einstein gently took charge and led me home. Maverick was still circling.
When did I realize I was off track? Did Einstein recognize this before I did or did he observe me pause? When did I notice he was already out in front and needed to be there? At what point was I aware that it was wiser to transfer the leadership for the return home to him?
Students Leading Themselves
Recently a client and her high school freshman were at odds. Tensions were high, threats flying. After some discussion, the parents decided to shift the responsibility of grades and alignment of resources to the student. The parents applied this hands off approach, to both boys who have been in coaching. The boys began practicing what they learned in sessions, evaluating their resources, how to plan and use their time and how to reflect on their performance. Outcome? The parent/student engagement has been delightful in recent sessions. They even shared that their 6th grader played Xbox the night before a test and did very poorly reflecting he would not repeat that because he didn’t like the grade (he’s a conscientious student). Not every student is ready for this but this 6th grader was.
Back to the dogs. So am I comfortable transferring leadership to Einstein? Now – yes, because I recognize he’s ready, in fact has been leading for a while I just didn’t notice. Not only did he know the right thing to do, he knew when to do it. Is Maverick ready? Not a chance. He’s still a distractible puppy.
As parents, do we recognize when our children are ready to lead and at what point are we willing to transfer self-leadership to them? What will make them want to listen to our feedback or take suggestions? Will it be when we are dictating how and when they do things or in a calm discussion of thinking through choices and temptations?
Sometimes consequences or life experiences are the best teacher. It’s easy to let our emotions get caught up in driving outcomes instead of focusing on the process of our kids learning how to solve problems. So when do we start turning over leadership to our kids? As soon as practical. The more practice they have before they leave the house, the more proficient they will be when they leave for college. How will our kids learn to become better leaders of others? By practicing leading themselves.