Let’s dispel a major misconception about motivating and managing kids: Proper, proportional adult leadership is always less about control or compliance and so much more about cultivating willing cooperation and courtesy in children.
That said, “compliance” and “control” are not dirty words, and they certainly should not be dirty little secrets when used with adult integrity and intention. Therefore, no parent or teacher should be shy or hesitant about ensuring that kids do what is asked of them, especially where safety, civility, and consistency are concerned.
Furthermore, relationships, creativity, and learning simply cannot thrive in an environment full of doubt, danger, chaos, or catastrophe. Those enjoyable essentials do flourish, however, in an atmosphere of assurance, harmony, and integrity– and these are the very qualities that true adult leadership supplies to children.
The Firm and Fair Path to a Child’s Self-Regulation
Enthusiastic, automatic regard and responsiveness from every child are the goals, yet do not knock a healthy dose of some good old-fashioned compliance while on the way to meeting those worthy targets. Compliance ensures a baseline of certainty, security, efficiency, and output. Without these fundamentals, a home or a school cannot function optimally.
Besides, any reasonable adult emphasis on compliance soon yields to to a child’s own cheerful comportment. Compliance is always a means to an end, never an end in itself.
Similarly, a wise adult leader often initially utilizes some elements of control in order to realize their true objective of developing that child’s self-control and sense of connectedness. Rather than allowing a child to wallow in recklessness and selfishness, adults should promptly and purposefully instill the character traits of patience, empathy, and responsibility in each child.
Such youthful acquiescence and amenability simply make room for the needs of every individual to be met. Again, any appropriate amount of compliance or control is merely the avenue to which self-expression and self-confidence are set aloft.
So let’s be clear: No conscientious parent or teacher seeks to create mindful yet mindless automatons. They do not even want kids to be excellent sheep.
Instead, proper adult leadership is about establishing and maintaining respect and reliability in children—all with the direct intention of ensuring that love, laughter, and learning continue to flow and to be enjoyed by all.
Leadership does not Seek Conformity or Constriction
An adult’s use of developmentally appropriate structure and supervision also has nothing to do with their desire for conformity. Done correctly, leadership should progressively free a child to earn autonomy and to act with progressively greater independence.
Individuality is always honored– just as long as one’s expression of their uniqueness does not infringe upon the self-determination of anyone else. True leadership never constricts; it only seeks to liberate those who progressively prove themselves ready for such freedoms and new opportunities.
While negative consequences do indeed have their place, it is far better to feature and generously bestow positive reinforcement, intrinsic motivation, and constructive incentives upon the children who you seek to inspire and influence, rather than to chronically discourage or dissuade. Such a decidedly positive approach proves to a child that the adult is always on their side and a partner in their burgeoning independence, even during those times when a child may not particularly relish the firm leadership currently being administered.
These rules and routines also serve as frequent reasons to praise children for what they are doing right, as opposed to being perceived as an adult obsessed with catching them doing wrong. In fact, restrictions and responsibilities do not inhibit; they temper and teach until such a time when the child no longer needs the current adult direction to scaffold their own wise choices and high expectations of themselves.
In one way, life is a series of constantly shifting, externally imposed regulations mixed with many self-selected duties. We, adults and children alike, are always restrained by something or answerable to someone– none of which are necessarily bad things. In the end, if we each have learned to be answerable to ourselves, we can easily embrace life’s little limits and liabilities with grace and humor.
The Importance of Reliability and Responsibility
Make no mistake: The absence of permanence, parameters, and procedures– both at home and school– has myriad negative consequences; not the least of which is that there are too many adolescents who have never done anything earnestly, attentively, or efficiently in their entire lives– both at home and at school!
That is, not unless it was something that was a child’s personally preferred activity.
And why would we expect duty or diligence from kids whose home life is essentially a long series of personally preferred activities? An increasing number of children basically eat what they want, watch what they want, are bought what they want, and go to sleep when they want– and if necessary, they incessantly nag or throw a fit until their beleaguered parents inevitably relent in granting them exactly what they wanted all along.
Why would we then expect these same kids to suddenly comply and cooperate with, or conscientiously contribute to, their education?
Adding to the problem, some at the school site do not see the difference between mere entertainment and deep engagement. Still others equate student comfort and choice with carte blanche.
Choice Amongst Limits, Creativity Amidst Structure
Parents and teachers need to stop treating children as if they were miniature adults. They are not.
We also must cease thinking that instilling aspects of obedience and allegiance in kids is a bad thing. It is not.
Without guidelines and guidance, mixed with equal parts flexibility and freedom and encouragement and understanding, children will never grow into the confident, capable adult leaders we expect them to be– leaders who hopefully will one day command a similar degree of deference and fidelity from those they not only are responsible for but care about deeply.
Balance is the key, of course. Any cooperation or courtesy (even a bit of control or compliance) required from children should be simultaneously tempered with elements of compassion and confidence-building, choice and creativity, as well as comprehension and competency. This whole-child, leadership, love, laughter, and learning approach to children ensures such a balance and bolsters kids in four fundamental ways:
Leadership is but one avenue savvy parents and teachers use to win kids over as they progressively hand over the reigns to the children they seek to nurture and educate.
At the same time, an adult’s unconditional love emboldens and assists a child’s blossoming self-assurance and inner strength.
Similarly, the metaphor of laughter always inspires and validates a child’s interests and talents.
Likewise, true learning never confines kids; it broadens their horizons and expands their possibilities.
If you are not also and equally emphasizing love, laughter, and learning along with your leadership, all your firmness will have minimal effect. By the same token, if you neglect your leadership duties, be it slightly or significantly, expect proportionately less desirable results.
I sincerely hope these four articles have stretched your understanding of the true nature and importance of adult leadership in the lives of children. Proudly and properly assert your adult authority because the children in your lives expect no less from you.
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.
The subject of strong adult leadership is continued in the upcoming article, The Myth of the School-to-Prison-Pipeline.
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.