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My second child did not learn to talk as quickly as my first. Like all mothers do, I worried that she was behind, that she might have difficulty in school, and that she would not learn to read. Someone more wise than I pointed out that I was allowing my older daughter to speak for her. When Anna wanted a cookie, my older daughter would come to me and say, “Anna wants a cookie.” Anna had no need to learn to talk because her sister was rescuing her; she was doing her talking for her. I thought about this when I read Tim Elmore’s book, Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How To Correct Them.
One of the mistakes Elmore writes about is parents who rescue their children too quickly. When parents solve their problems for them, they are making sure their children do not learn that they are responsible for their own actions and are capable of solving problems themselves. Children need to learn this while they are young and making decisions where the consequences are minor. In this way, they learn that the choices they make lead to results—some good, some bad. They begin to develop skills that good leaders need to know—communication, problem-solving, and responsibility.
I took a parenting class many years ago. I have never forgotten one of the examples the teacher used in class. She said, “If your four-year-old loses his quarter and you give him another one, he is not learning about consequences. This is the time to teach him, not when he’s 16 and you are getting a call from the police.” Elmore calls this “parenting for the short-term versus long-term.”
As a parent, it is hard to allow your child to suffer; but some suffering is necessary and normal. When your child comes to you complaining about a teacher who gave her a bad grade or a friend who took advantage of her, resist the urge to solve the problem for her. Teach her communication and problem-solving skills so she can do it for herself. In this way, she learns that life is not always perfect, but she can negotiate her way through it on her own. She is one step closer to becoming a leader.
For more ideas for developing leadership, see “All Children Have Potential to Develop Leadership Skills.” Remember, too, that children begin learning these skills at very early ages. It is important to allow them to learn even when you would like to protect them from every difficult situation.