When I hear the word "leadership" my mind fills with memories. Some of these memories are of teachers, friends, and family. They are of people I looked up to, who helped me grow and push the edges of my comfort zone. Others are of activities and accomplishments, like swimming 37 widths across a swimming pool, as a young swimmer, without stopping, or returning as a young high school student from a successful service project.
I realize now, as an adult, the lessons learned in these activities helped stretch my comfort zone as a shy young girl. These lessons helped build my character and made me a stronger person--something all parents want for their children. Here are a few way parents can encourage leadership in children of varying ages.
Do things together as a family in your home. This can provide opportunities in an environment where young people are already comfortable. For example you can teach your kids how to do specific tasks or projects and let them try. Make sure you give them positive feedback while letting them have fun. One mother I know sings the steps to making dinner and as they finish the child sings in reply.
Encourage social interaction. Every member of the family is different so you will want to create different settings where each individual can be successful. You can have an array of different activities like art projects, science experiments, and sports. A youth working together with a soccer team to make a common goal can be exhilarating while encouraging team unity and leadership.
Help them plan and organize. Do you have girls who like to dress-up or have parties? Pull out a box of dress up clothes and give her support and encouragement by letting her plan her own party. Let her pick invitations, games, and food for her friends as she plans the party from beginning to end. Costumes can provide growth for girls and boys by putting on a play. Boys might also enjoy the challenge of building and racing Lego cars with their friends. Whether your children are quiet followers or enjoy being in the limelight, give them encouragement and help them feel successful.
Teach them to serve. Service projects are a great way for youth and adults to work together. Every participant should understand the goal and their part in it. Learning why something is done provides motivation to participate and encourages leadership. Everyone should have a piece of the project they are responsible for and they should be allowed flexibility in how they fulfill it.
Whether your family does service, sports, plays with friends or makes dinner together, taking time to reflect on the activity is important. It helps everyone see what they learned, talk about what they would change, be accountable, celebrate little and big accomplishments, make memories, and of course teaches them they can be a positive leader in their lives and the lives of others.