Admittedly, firm leadership runs the occasional risk of the adult authority figure being perceived by some children as unpopular or as the “bad guy.” Yet if one of your greatest fears as a parent or a teacher is falling into disfavor, no matter how temporarily, with the very children you are endeavoring to raise right and to raise up, you need a reality check just as much as that petulant, pouty kid whose feigned resentment is merely a means of manipulation.
Instead, parents and teachers must rise to their obligations, call kids on their crap, and unflinchingly shut down recurrent recalcitrant behavior.
“No” has to mean no, “stop” has to mean stop, and “now” must mean now in terms of how children respond to adult requests and rules. This automatic adherence to established norms is not merely about respect for the adult in charge, it is about ensuring a soothing sense of security, structure, and stability for everyone involved.
This foundation of functionality is essential for any positive and productive home or classroom. With worthy adult leadership, everyone benefits: from the child who is being counseled or corrected to all of their peers and siblings who may be in close proximity–not to mention the necessary relief and release such order and basic obedience creates for the adult in the room.
While teaching children common sense and common courtesy should be done calmly and positively, also know that there are times when there is neither the time nor the necessity for unlimited, repeated adult niceties. Ultimately, limits must be enforced, and basic expectations must be honored. If not, then why set them in the first place?
Re-Asserting Adult Authority
Like it or not, there are indeed occasions when parents and teachers intentionally and justifiably get loud, emphatic, or frustrated in order make their point, which heretofore had been patently ignored by the child. Other times, these adults opt to display a whispered weightiness and piercing glare that ring just as loudly and clearly.
Either way, kids need to see these expressions of increased adult intensity when they push things too far or deliberately push our buttons. These rare but pointed wake up calls are not pleasant, neither for adult nor child, but they are nonetheless necessary components of an adult’s vast leadership toolkit.
Of course, spontaneously ratcheting up your reaction or response to a child’s negative behavior should never be a parent or teacher’s default means of asserting their leadership. Such forcefulness is instead to be used infrequently and judiciously so that it retains its intended maximum impact and shock value.
Kids need to know that as the adult in charge you do not negotiate, nag, or wait around for when a child is good and ready. By extension, as the steadfast adult in the room you also do not allow children to nag you—and if they attempt to do so, you put a stop to it immediately.
(If you have a problem with words like “authority,” “in charge,” and “obedience,” you are encouraged to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this article in order to gain a full understanding of what proper, proportional adult leadership actually entails.)
The Gifts of Leadership
Naturally, every parent and teacher has their own way of expressing their firmness, and this is how it should be. Guiding children must be a personal endeavor, as well as customized to fit the particular needs of the individual child.
Always balancing what is developmentally and age-appropriate in general with what you know about a child specifically will ensure that each child receives what she or he truly needs at the time. Adult expectations must always be flexible and tailored to each child.
Nevertheless, a consistent, equal focus on providing children with leadership, love, laughter, and learning will prove to be an even keeled, reliable touchstone for all adults. Through this balance, you will be delighted to discover that your leadership will regain its rightful place as the conduit from which love, laughter, and learning flow.
Even in the best of circumstances and with the best of intentions, all the love, laughter, and learning that parents, schools, and individual teachers lavish upon children do not amount to much without also providing kids with leadership. Every child requires this essential adult leadership in order to make their way in a world that is filled with a relentless onslaught of changes, choices, and charms.
Both at home and at school, fundamental organization and adult authority help kids navigate the inevitable complexities and crises of life. Do not underestimate the comforting effects security and stability have upon children, especially where self-confidence and learning are concerned.
Even creativity is enhanced in an environment devoid of needless concern, chaos, and catastrophe. It is a parent and teacher’s combined leadership that give this gift of order and assurance to the children they care for and care deeply about.
Leadership, Not Chronic Coddling or Control
This overarching structure should not be used to excess, however. When adults chronically shield children from every danger, dilemma, disappointment, and disgrace, they only deprive kids of the crucial life lessons that teach them how to cope with the harsh realities of the world and how to adjust their decisions to better manage their emotions and outcomes.
Thus, children must know in no uncertain terms that actions have consequences and that personal effort, attention, and integrity directly affect one’s own results, rewards, and relationships. Beyond the basics, no one is owed or entitled to anything. Perks and privileges must instead be earned, worked for with perseverance, and waited for with patience.
We do children a great disservice when we “allow” kids to figure things out all on their own, when we wait around for them to summon focus, fortitude, and fidelity all of their own accord, or when we micromanage their every move without a thought to how they will ever manage all on their own. High expectations devoid of the necessary advice, advocacy, and instruction amount to naught.
At the other extreme, too much parental control, constriction, and checking are similarly counterproductive. This is why a balance of the Four Ls is so vital.
Motivating Kids by Being Tough and Tender
Never rely upon a purely consequence-driven method of parental leadership or classroom management. That lopsided approach never works and often backfires.
Parents and teachers should instead use a proactive, positive process of preventing most misbehavior before it even occurs. When it does occur—these are kids, after all—adults should always intervene, especially when a child’s indiscretions are small and isolated. This intervention must be done calmly and subtly in order to redirect the unproductive or impolite behavior and so that minor issues do not intensify, multiply, or spread.
Put in their proper place, negative consequences are but one of a multitude of tools parents and teachers should use to influence positive choices in children. In fact, if an adult is motivating a child with a consistent combination of leadership, love, laughter, and learning, negative consequences will never be a featured or frequent part of nurturing and educating that child.
You see, whether or not it comes to the point where an adult decides it is beneficial to actually issue a specific negative consequence, simply retaining the adult authority to do so is a potent, necessary component of leadership. Just knowing there is the potentiality for an unpleasant consequence should they seriously stray causes most kids to think twice before acting irresponsibly or disrespectfully.
Then on the infrequent occasion when a certain child chooses to misbehave and actually receives a negative consequence, other kids will inevitably bear witness or hear tell of it. The resulting chilling effect upon the whole group again shows that negative consequences do indeed work when used selectively and accordingly.
Enough with entitlement and unlimited indulgences! Let us firmly require kids to earn what they truly desire instead of creating disregard, dependency, and dysfunction in children who have everything done for and given to them and who pay no price for doing nothing for themselves or for others—and, even worse, who suffer no repercussions or remorse for dragging others down to their level.
How do you include leadership in the ways you interact with your children or students? How does that adult leadership actually enhance the flow of love, laughter, and learning in your home or classroom? Please share your insights, opinions, and experiences in the comments section below.
Click to read Part Four of this article.
For more on this whole-child approach, read the new book by Robert Ward, A Teacher’s Inside Advice to Parents: How Children Thrive with Leadership, Love, Laughter, and Learning.
This book is available directly through the publisher at a 20% discount using the promotion code RLEGEN17 at checkout on the Rowman & Littlefield Publishers website.
This article is featured on the Mindprint Learning website where parents can find great resources to help their child achieve more in school and in life.