Children are often told what to do, where to go, and how to act throughout the day. And we, as parents and caregivers, often feel rushed, over-scheduled, and required to actively parent our children at all times.
But both parents and children need breaks from their typical roles. It's important for children's to have some control of their world. When children have opportunities to make decisions and increase their independence, they see that their own identity is important. They are able to build confidence when their thoughts and opinions are valued by those around them.
Here are some ways you can give your child opportunities to grow as a leader.
Relax during short trips
We all been on an outing to the zoo or a museum where we parents take the role of timekeeper. We let our children know when it’s time to move on to the next exhibit or when we will head home. Next time you take a day trip together, let your child decide how long to spend at each area. If your child is most interested in one exhibit, it’s okay to let him enjoy that area until she's ready to move on. It’s surprisingly freeing and peaceful to just appreciate your time with your child without worrying about what you might be missing if you can't cover the entire attraction. Before rushing her along, ask yourself why you are enforcing time limits. If there’s no important reason to rush, let her be the timekeeper.
Let her play
Children love play! It includes so many activities, like dramatic play (such as playing house), building, creating, engaging with nature, playing board games, and so much more! Allow your child to be in charge of her play. Give her time for free play. Have her decide what she wants to do, how to do it, and who she wants to play with.
When your child is playing or creating, let her think about and decide on the “why” before enforcing boundaries. For example, the other day, my son wanted to play a board game. At first I started explaining all the rules and tried to help him to follow them, but he wasn’t having fun. He wanted to play in a different way. Instead of insisting on playing by the rules, I shifted my approach. Allowing him to decide, I said, “Let’s try the game your way. Can you teach me?” We had a great time and were really engaged with each other.
Expand on his ideas
When your child talks with you, try to expand on what she says, even if it seems odd or unrealistic. Recently my son said, “I wish we lived in a mansion.” My first instinct was to talk to him about gratitude and being thankful for what we had. But I stopped myself and instead asked, “Oh yeah, what would be in your mansion?” He went on to detail the imaginative ideas he had for this house he wanted to live in. By allowing children to communicate ideas and helping them expand on their thoughts, we help children develop their divergent thinking and build confidence. It also encourages their creative thinking, and shows them our respect. Parents are also able to avoid unnecessary power struggles.
Practicing different methods that give your child a sense of control and independence in their world can rejuvenate your ability to be a good leader for your child. After all, we could all use a turn leading—and following the leader.
Andrea Laser is an early childhood special educator teaching in Colorado for her 16th year in public schools. Andrea has two boys, ages four and eight, who simultaneously energize and exhaust her and her husband. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.