When our kids are little ones, we parents find ourselves stressing about our kids learning the basics of how to simply function in the world while simultaneously trying to make sure we aren’t letting them have too much screen time and enough vegetables and then things like sleep regression and potty training kick in and all bets are off and we go back into survival mode again and again. Rinse and repeat. Reheat the coffee.
And suddenly…..it hits us. They are their own humans now. They go to the bathroom on their own, they dress themselves, they have opinions about music and movies and clothing and people. After what likely felt like little more than a blink, our children are at the age where they are embracing their independence and all those years that we spent holding their hands now seem so far away because we have to teach them to let go.
Letting go is scary.
Parenting is a daily exercise in uncertainty. And when our kids are old enough to go off to school on their own, forge their own relationships, make their own decisions…..that uncertainty gets even more prevalent. So, how do we foster independence and leadership in our children so that they can be change-makers, world-changers and people of character who grab on to what is best in this world and bring others along with them?
Having partners on this journey is crucial to the development of these traits in our kids and today we are joined by Kevin Vos, the head of school at Brookfield Christian School. As the father of two daughters and an administrator who is committed to cultivating an environment of leadership for students, Kevin brings a welcome perspective today!
As a principal, it is one of my goals for our school to prepare our students to be leaders in their classrooms, school, and community. As a parent, I want the same for my own kids. Fostering independence and cultivating leadership skills is a common desire for all parents, but how to help your kids grow in these areas can be more art than science. While every child is unique in their own way, and what works for one may not work for another, what follows are general insights I have gained from my perspective as both an educator and father.
Fostering Independence and Cultivating Leadership in Your Child
- Don’t hover. This is easy to say and hard to do. We all want our kids to succeed, and it’s difficult to see a child experience adversity. However, we do our kids no favors when we try to intervene on their behalf, make life easier for them, or speak for them. Instead, give them the space needed to learn on their own. Teach them to look people in the eye and speak for themselves. Proactively equip and empower them to make future decisions by having conversations with them about how to handle certain scenarios before they occur. Then, once they have made a decision, follow up afterward to share feedback and insights learned.
- Let your child fail. Making mistakes are opportunities to learn in disguise. It’s better for your child to experience failure now rather than go through life thinking everything will be easy. Learning at a young age that they will experience challenges and have to overcome adversity enables children to expand their growth mindset and have a healthy self-concept and a well-adjusted perspective of how to approach the world around them.
- Give your child responsibilities. Our schedules are packed full, and our kids’ schedules are no different. As a result, I have seen fewer and fewer kids being given responsibilities in their homes. Assign your kids chores around the house. Have them mow the lawn, pull weeds, do the dishes, empty trash, wash the car, etc. Make them accountable for tracking, doing, and turning in their homework. We can’t expect our kids to handle large tasks if we never teach them how by starting with the small stuff.
- Provide opportunities for kids to develop their interests. Part of parenting is providing opportunities, within reason, for kids to explore the world around them. Since they may not know what their interests are right away, go ahead and enroll them in piano lessons, sign them up to play a sport, or have them explore their creative side. Assist them in identifying their talents and encourage them to pursue what interests them and what they are passionate about. At the same time, help them be selective in their choices in order to avoid burnout and being overextended.
- Understand that a child’s personality does not dictate whether or not they will be a leader. Anyone can be a leader. It doesn’t matter if your child is an extrovert or an introvert. Don’t try to change your child’s personality. When given support and guidance, they will figure out their strengths and learn where they need to grow. Part of being an effective leader is not having every leadership skill possible. Rather, it’s recognizing the strengths one possesses, developing others as able, and then finding people to work with who have the skills that one is missing.
- Teach kids to serve. When we teach our kids to serve, we provide an opportunity for students to experience what it means to work with others while also opening up their eyes to the world in which they live and growing their capacity to empathize. Successful leaders need to be able to take on multiple perspectives in order to both understand and relate to those around them.
Kevin Vos is in his fifth year as the head of school at Brookfield Christian School. He has spent 22 years in education, serving in various roles as a 2nd and 3rd-grade teacher, basketball coach, and school administrator. Married for 20 years and the father of two daughters, he shares a passion for education and lifelong learning with his wife who is also an educator.