Building Leadership Skills in Children
Posted: October 2, 2012
I have always admired people who I perceived as having excellent leadership skills. At one time, I thought that these skills came naturally, but I’ve learned that we all have the potential to develop leadership skills. We need to be encouraged, role modeled, and nurtured to develop these skills and it should begin in childhood.
Studies show that early experiences in life impact adult leadership potential. Carl Brungardt reviewed the work of child psychologists Robert and Pauline Sears, and found that personal traits such as the ability to understand and deal with others, the need for achievement, confidence and assertiveness are influenced substantially by childhood experiences. They also found that parent support played an important role in leadership development in children. (Brungardt 1997) Other studies have found that “family influences”, such as positive parental interaction and an emphasis on a strong work ethic, were found in children who actively sought out leadership roles.
There are many qualities associated with leadership such as communication skills, problem solving skills, organization, flexibility, and creativity. Teachers, caregivers, parents and other family members can encourage the development of these qualities in early life.
All children have the potential to develop leadership skills. It is a lifelong process. As children grow, the school setting adds to the influence of family life. Teachers can give children opportunities to serve in leadership roles. As adults, we can teach the skills necessary for children to take on leadership roles now and in the future. The following are some ways that you can help children develop leadership skills:
- Children learn from seeing what others do. It is important to model leadership behavior to children. Tell the child what you are doing and why you are doing it. They learn that you do things with purpose which have outcomes.
- Teach children how to see things from another’s point of view. Good communication is a key component to being an effective leader. Teach children how to listen carefully and how to respond to others in a calm and respectful way.
- Help children build their leadership self-confidence by giving them opportunities to do a good job and offer praise when appropriate. You might say, “I am so proud of you that you volunteered to be the leader of the group. It is a big job to make sure everyone is doing their part.”
- Find ways to create problem solving situations. Allow children to start making small decisions such as picking which activity they want to participate in. Give children more opportunities to make decisions as they learn the concepts of responsibility and consequences of making a decision.
- Teach children how to work with others in a team situation such as group projects or sports activities. Negotiation and compromising teaches children to stay focused on a larger picture not only their own personal view.
- Often, children as well as adults shy away from leadership tasks because they feel overwhelmed. Show children how to break tasks into workable ways to get the job done or address a problem situation.
- Encourage children to pursue things that interest them. They may develop a passion for it, feel comfortable and later take on a leadership role. While every child may not end up in a formal leadership position, it is a good bet that she or he will be doing some sort of leadership in the future. Remember that today’s children will be needed as volunteer leaders in your local community organizations such as 4-H clubs, Rotary, Kiwanis, fire company, Lions, and Rotary to just name a few. It is never too early to start building their leadership potential.