When you hear the word leadership, what do you think of? The head of a Fortune 500 company, the manager of your place of employment – or your own role as a parent?
Most parents have never consciously thought of themselves as leaders – they’re just trying to get through the day! Certainly when I was a young mother, defining my role as leadership opportunity never crossed my mind. However, over the years of raising my own ten children and counseling many more parents across the globe, I’ve become firmly convinced that parenting is the most significant and potentially powerful leadership role that exists!
If I had to choose one perspective when regularly practiced would be the most transformative for you as a parent and for your child’s healthy emotional development, it would be to become an effective mirror.
A mirror? Yes, a mirror! The highest form of leadership is to consistently and clearly mirror to your child his deep value and potential. On a daily basis you are holding up a mirror to your child that reflects who you believe he really is and what he is capable of – whether you realize it or not!
Your perception of your child and his actions, and your interpretation of why he does what he does are deeply powerful. When he acts out, is he manipulating you to get what he wants? Is he trying to show you who’s the boss? Has he always been a difficult kid? Or is his behavior the only way he is able to express his distress right now?
Whether your child is throwing a tantrum, refusing to clean his room or speaking disrespectfully, recognizing behavior is your child’s best attempt at communication in the moment will help you stay calm rather than respond with anger or hostility. It’s from that place of calm you can respond to him in a way that affirms his best intentions and then offer constructive correction.
It might seem irresponsible when faced with ‘bad’ behavior to respond with calm and compassion – “but he’s going to think it’s okay to keep acting like this!” is a common response that I hear.
Let me ask you to deeply consider the following: Just like you yourself, your child has a deep intrinsic desire to be loved, valued and appreciated. Kids want to be successful. Kids want your approval. Kids want to be socially appropriate. There’s not a child anywhere that craves being yelled at, being treated with distance, distain or distrust.
When your child is acting in a way that challenges you, it’s the time to LEAD! LEAD is my four step approach to effective problem solving:
L – listen – truly listen to his perspective.
E – empathize – show him you understand his perspective
A – affirm – let him know how much you appreciate him and his good intentions
D – discuss/direct – you can now discuss a better alternative and direct him accordingly
My LEAD strategy can be used effectively with children of all ages (spouses, too!). Some situations allow for a parent to move through these steps so quickly that it’s almost instantaneous. Other times it requires more time and patience to ensure the concerns of both the child and parent are addressed.
Let’s say your teenage daughter is dressing in a manner you find inappropriate. You have a few choices:
Choice #1 is to tell her, “No daughter of mine is walking out of the door looking like that! Go change that skirt right now!” She may change her skirt – but how likely is she to dress appropriately when you’re not around to police her? Will she feel understood, valued and respected? If not, it’s not a good choice.
Choice #2 is to overlook it and either put aside your expectations completely or hope that she’ll eventually choose to wear clothing that you approve of. If this is a serious concern of yours, resentment and frustration are likely to build within in you since your feelings aren’t being taken into account. Has this choice given you a chance to be understood, valued and respected? If not, it’s not a good choice.
Choice #3 is to LEAD. Talk to your daughter and give her a chance to honestly express why she’s choosing to wear this clothing. Make the effort to understand the situation through her eyes, to truly listen. Maybe she shares that that this is what everyone else is wearing and she doesn’t want to be different.
After getting clarity on where she’s coming from – you empathize. “It’s really hard when you want to be part of the crowd not to do what they’re doing.”
You can then let her know you appreciate her honesty in communicating with you and affirm her good intentions. “I really appreciate your honesty and willingness to discuss this with me.”
At this point you can now share your concerns and discuss a solution that will work for both of you. “I hear how important it is for you to look like everyone else. My concern is that when you dress like this, you’re conveying a message that you might not be trying to send. I’m wondering if we can brainstorm together and find a way you can look fashionable that accurately reflects the person you are inside.”
This conversation can generate a suprising range of possible solutions that often can’t be predicted before having the courage to hear your daughter and take her needs into account – and having the courage to honestly share your own position.
The solutions may include compromises on both of your parts on what is acceptable, one of you coming to agree completely with the other, your daughter requesting sewing lessons to create her own clothing, or finding a fashion buddy to go shopping with her. Or it may lead to further discussion about who her peer group actually is and finding there’s a deeper issue that is only peripherally about clothing. Maybe there’s a deep insecurity or anger that is being expressed by her clothing choice. It’s critical to understand that effective solutions flow from accurately understanding the issue and a different response on her part would entail a completely different set of solutions.
Learning to LEAD gives you the power to parent with love and appreciation of who your child is, and to be a positive mirror of him even in tough moments. When you believe that your child’s core is precious and good, when you address the reasons for misbehavior with unconditional love and appropriate redirection, you are letting him know that he is deeply loved, valued and appreciated.
It’s not easy to shift from a behavior management focus to a leadership approach. True leadership supports your child in uncovering and becoming the unique and special person he was meant to be, and is more effective, freeing and joyful for the entire family than behavior management could ever be. Take the time to learn to LEAD – it will transform your family!