Dr Maike Neuhaus
Teaching Children Self-Leadership Skills & Positive Psychology Practices
Free tools and tips to support your child’s health, learning, and happiness
We all want to see our children grow up to be thriving, happy, adolescents and adults. Self-leadership and positive psychology practices are arguably the most valuable and essential skills we can equip them with, so they can flourish and lead a life of intention and purpose.
The thing is, children inherently learn from those around them – values are passed down, attitudes to circumstances silently absorbed into their own persona, and expectations for behaviours is set by the adults in their lives. This means by tapping into our own self-leadership, we automatically role model to our kids these competencies that enhance our health and wellbeing.
But what if we wanted to do more?
What if we wanted to take an active role in teaching our kids self-leadership skills?
Where would we begin?
I’m so glad you asked 😊
There are lots of things we can do to teach our kids the 3 fundamental elements of slef-leadership: self-knowledge, self-goalsetting, and self-regulation. And here's how to do it.
Supporting kids to get to know themselves
As you’ve heard me say many times before – we need to start here: Who are you as a person and what do you stand for? The same goes for our children.
Helping them to develop a strong sense of identity and awareness of their strengths and unique self is an essential foundation to helping them thrive through self-leadership.
You can do this by:
Explicitly discussing family values, and actively planning your time to reflect this. For example, if quality time together is important, scheduling this in as a ‘non-negotiable’ with tech-free/ work-free time and family traditions (think Sunday dinners) makes it a priority for everyone. This creates a strong sense of belonging, which helps to support positive identity development.
Actively ‘catching’ your child when you witness positive moments and highlighting their strengths and character traits. This can be situations in which they are caring for a peer who needs help, or initiating something by themselves (like cleaning up – ha!). Even those less-than-positive interactions can still be harnessed. Imgaine yourself saying for example ‘that was really hard and I saw you got angry, because you like it when things are equal and fair…justice and fairness is something that is really important to you.’
Create an ‘I am’ picture with your child to list their internal and external qualities. Your child may find relaying their physical appearance easy, and perhaps what they are good at or interested in, but may need help from you to highlight their ‘inner being’ as well.
Supporting kids with setting their own goals
Depending on the age of your child, their current life goals may range from what they desire for morning tea and how to acquire this (tantrum vs. polite request, thanks), to saving up for an important purchase.
But as you know, goal setting can be hard to get right, and there are actually many other factors involved beyond creating a SMART goal.
Helping your child to develop foundational routines for their week and day is grounding and will help them practise and implement habits to reach their goal. For example, when getting home from school, encourage them to unpack their bag, have afternoon tea and then do home work before playing outside in order to establish regular time to learn and study.
Observe your child and help them to explore and access the areas they are interested in – children automatically gravitate towards ‘flow’, because play is natural to them and their own form of ‘work’. You can support your child to learn to set goals around their strengths, interests and passion. Doing so will also help them to excel – not just because they are naturally gifted at something, but because they find it interesting and enjoyable too – which leads to a deep sense of pride and happiness.
Encourage your child to establish and honour accountability - not just to you and external expectations, but also to internal expectations they set for themselves (or that you set in collaboration with them, depending on their age). This can sound like 'Remember that you were going to tidy away one toy before taking out a new from now on? How are you going with this?' This encourages them to take ownership over their goals and therefore their time as they work towards these goals – and when they reach them it is all the more satisfying for them, because of the internal rather than external motivation utilised.
Be aware of your child’s energy levels and how much they have on their plate – especially as the school years fluctuate (and become more intense as they approach senior years). Encourage adaptability, as well as planning to enable them to keep their wellbeing at the forefront of their mind, rather than at the expense of achievement.
Supporting your child's self-regulation skills
We need self-regulation skills for the ongoing monitoring and ‘checking in’ to see how we are travelling towards our goals – both in the short and long-term. There are many skills within this that help us to keep ‘on track’, and equally helps us to recognise when we have veered off course, so that we can self-correct and continue forwards.
Encourage the foundations of wellbeing in your child and support this through good quality sleep, nutrition and hydration, and regular physical exercise. A well-supported nervous system is more able to handle the daily stressors of life with much more resilience, and supports positive thoughts, feelings and behaviour as well.
Allow your child to make mistakes and experience natural consequences. We never like seeing our children in distress, nor would we ever put them in harms way, but sometimes taking too much responsibility for their tasks does them a disservice and gets in the way of their own learning. If they don’t practice basketball and then miss out on selection at districts, support and debriefing around this is extremely important. This will also serve as an opportunity to develop a growth mindset with resilience and determination at the forefront – two qualities that have been shown as predictors of success. Failure is inevitable in life, but it is how we respond to it that matters.
Mindfulness is a gate to responding to our circumstances with choice rather than reacting impulsively. We can cultivate a more mindful approach to life in our kids, too, simply by prompting them to take a deep breath and slowly counting backwards from 10 when they are upset or frustrated by something and before doing anything else.
We don’t have to be the perfect self-leader or perfect parent to help our children learn great self-leadership skills. In fact, it is actually better if we are human, just like them (what a relief!). It gives everyone permission not to be perfect, and to continue to work towards their goals and make active momentum in their lives to live it to the fullest.
PS: Keep your eyes peeled here for more in-depth blog articles, tools, tips and resources about how to teach kids to become awesome self-leaders. And if you are interested in connecting with like-minded individuals on their own self-leadership journey, and learning more about positive psychology and how it can enhance your life, come and join our socials – we’d love to have you.
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And, if you are seeking more guidance on how to activate and harness your own self-leadership (we have all been there, trust me!) to create a life you love, join our next FRESH START group – due to open in January 2022 – to access comprehensive evidence-based information, coaching and a wonderfully supportive community online.