As children grow older, they inevitably begin to question authority and the information presented to them. Darren Stevenson, Managing Director of Extend After School Care, outlines how educators and parents can inspire children, as opposed to asserting their authority.
Small children are powerfully driven to follow. They do so for their own survival. That’s why parents have such a strong influence over their young children and the reason small children blindly adopt the beliefs of their parents, at least in the early years. For all humans, parents are simply the first leaders with who we align ourselves. I’ve spent my entire working life in education and in my observations, children have continued to follow from generation to generation. But this isn’t guaranteed forever.
As they grow up, children start to think for themselves. They listen to others. They’re influenced by the world around them. Starting school is a turning point for children, where teachers become an additional influence, the second leaders in each child’s life. As children approach teenage years, their friends become the next leaders in their lives.
Before they start school, mum or dad are right about everything and the world is black and white. As we educate our children and allow them to create bonds outside the family home, it slowly dawns on them that there are different opinions in the world – more shades of grey.
It’s at this time they start to question and challenge. If the challenge isn’t met with satisfactory answers and actions from parents or teachers, the consequences can be brutal. This is the time when your leadership skills as a teacher are really tested. Do you assert your authority as a parent or do you inspire?
Asserting your authority may give you the immediate outcome you desire on that occasion, particularly in the stage where children lack their own autonomy. However, it won’t inspire and it won’t create believers of the path you’re promoting.
A better method is to inspire and this should start well before the first time you’re challenged. If you’re talking to children constantly about the ‘why’ in your ideas, you’re gaining credibility every day, well before you actually need it. For instance, if you want your children to focus more on a healthy lifestyle, then very early on you need to be showing them what a healthy lifestyle is, and talking to them about why it’s important. “Because I said so”, doesn’t inspire. Children understand a lot more than we think. Understand you are their leader, and they look to you for inspiration. It’s never too early to start respectful, inspirational two-way communication with kids.
In my book Finders Keepers, I present seven lessons of leadership learned from observing the journey from following to challenging in kids, and apply these to leadership in business. I discuss how fair weather leaders come and go but long-term leaders champion and inspire from day one. Finders Keepers explores everything from having an authentic message, to being ready for any challenge that comes your way. It outlines the importance of accountability and maintaining a focus on solutions, and accepting that sometimes leadership is scary.