A neighbor recently commented that my oldest daughter, Sophie, is such a leader. She went on to say Sophie does an excellent job of getting other kids together and organizing activities without being bossy or demanding. I thanked her for the compliment. Then went on to tell her, “My goal is for Sophie to be a leader, but I actually never tell her to be a leader.”
Why I Never Call My Kids Leaders
Being a leader is not enough. How we lead determines the lasting impact of our influence. To help our kids become the leaders God designed them to be, we must be careful not to add unnecessary pressure, emphasize leaders are not just the people in charge, and help them become the best version of themselves.
When you tell someone to be a leader, you may mean, “don’t follow the crowd when they do something wrong,” but the thought of “being a leader” can take own a life of its own in the mind of a child. If we do a good job affirming a child at home, then what we really want in those situations is for them to be who we know they are instead of trying to do what they think a leader would do. To me, that means, affirming their identity is more important than telling them to live up to a certain standard.
Not the Person in Charge
A leader is not just the person in charge. It is the person with influence. When kids hear “leader,” they may think they have to boss others around. If my kids become bossy and try to correct other kids, they lose influence and friends. That is why it is crucial to emphasize identity in young kids instead of leadership.
What We Do Instead
Affirming your child’s identity can help them be the leader they are meant to be among their friends because they will be leading out of their authentic selves instead of trying to enforce and live up to a certain standard. Being secure in their identity will prepare them to lead well as young adults when they can more understand the complexity of what it truly means to be a leader.
Benefits of Affirming
- When the child falls short, they land on who their parents (and God) say they are instead of the guilt and condemnation of not being the leader they are supposed to be.
- Affirming creates authentic confidence inside a child to lead out of who they are, in their own way, instead of striving to be what they think a leader should look like.
- When you affirm a child, you give them security instead of unintentionally inserting the idea that they have to live up to a certain standard as a leader to be good enough for your approval.
- When kids know who they are, they will not be afraid to be different. They are not gaining their identity from their friend group, being a part of what others are doing, or being the person in charge.
How We Affirm
Starting at about one-year-old, I created sayings that would build up each of my girls’ confidence and identity. As they grew, I would change what I said over them based on how each girl blossomed. I will share what I would tell Sophie each night as I rocked her to bed.
“You are so sweet and so smart. So sensitive and so strong. You are my sweet, sweet, Sophie, that is so, so, sweet, and I love you so much. You are my very only special Sophie girl. There is no one else like you, and I think you are so pretty.”
There are some principles built into that saying that are important.
We celebrate character. Accomplishments are just the product of good character. So even when we point out accomplishments, we always highlight the character that got them there.
Special to Me
Kids need to know they are precious just because they exist and are part of their family, not because they live up to a certain standard. When I say the words, “I am proud of you,” it is connected to a godly decision or character they display 90% of the time. Kids want their parents to celebrate their victories, so of course, we do that. We just don’t make that the focus.
Superficial but Necessary
You’ll also notice I tell Sophie she is pretty, but not until after building up her identity in other ways first. Little girls need to hear they are lovely, just like little boys need to hear they are handsome and strong. Again, I want my daughter to know that true beauty abides in how they treat others. I want Cinderellas in my house and not Little Mermaids.
I finished the conversation with my neighbor by telling her that a parent who emphasizes being a leader to their young children is a good thing. If you are doing that, you are already thinking ahead of the challenges kids will face and preparing them to stand firm.
We have just chosen a different path based on our experience and how we have seen emphasizing and even pressuring people to be a leader can cause them to lead, but not from an authentic place. I figure I would spend my kids’ childhood building up their confidence and identity. I hope that as they get older, they will lead, not because they are supposed to or have to, but because their emotional bank account is full. This way, they can help others out of the overflow of who they are, and not because they need anything from those around them. These are the types of leaders I always enjoyed following the most, anyway.