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Cultivating Leadership Potential in children

My elder daughter has recently turned 5 years old. Her teachers have often commented that she is mature and a fast learner, who volunteers information whereas some of her counterparts are more reticent. In fact, most of her teachers

Cultivating Leadership Potential in children

Cultivating Leadership Potential in children

think she is a bright kid. To be honest, I am rather blasé about those comments.  I would have found greater delight if my daughter were socially and emotionally intelligent.  Hence, when a parent of my daughter’s classmate approached me, she made one comment that impressed and made me sit up. She had been watching the kids at play after school and observed that my daughter demonstrated strong leadership qualities and charisma. In the light of such comments, I began to watch my daughter at play more closely.  This was what I noticed: she was effective in taking charge and control; she had influence; she was confident, energetic and played with great enthusiasm.

According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, emotional intelligence is the indispensable ingredient of leadership. He defined 5 components of emotional intelligence at work: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.  Although these components apply to adults in the context of work, we can adapt some of these principles of leadership in a relevant and age-appropriate approach for young children. Let us look at 3 of the components – self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation – in turn, and briefly discuss how these can be nurtured in a child as young as five.

Self-awareness implies that the child must have sufficient knowledge of herself and that would also imply a certain level of maturity. Children as early as age 5 can be taught to recognize the four primary emotions of happy, sad, anger and fear in themselves. In fact, children before age one, can identify fear when they experience it. It is common for children who face situations which evoke sadness, anger and fear in them to misbehave or to throw a tantrum. Often, when they act out in response to certain emotional events, it is because they are unable to understand their emotions and therefore are unable to express them appropriately.  To teach a child to recognize her emotions, we need to name the emotions when they are being expressed by the child.  We can tell her what she is feeling and let her know that it is normal. In other words, we are helping the child to acknowledge her feelings.

Emotions are neither bad nor negative. They just happen to be as they are developed in certain structures of the brain called the limbic system. For instance, we need to impress upon the child that feelings of anger are not wrong; and there is no point in correcting the child for being angry. What is more important is finding an appropriate outlet to release the feelings and deal with them. Teach the child to acknowledge her anger. Subsequently, deal with it by giving her a listening ear or adopting time-out cooling down strategies.

Coping strategies can be taught to a child as a life skill, which leads to the component of self-regulation. Young children can have very powerful feelings which when released are sometimes uncontrollable. What can we do to help them manage their feelings? When my child is sad, I show empathy and explain to her that she is feeling sad. I let her cry her heart out. Depending on the event that triggered her sadness, I will guide her towards a closure. Some children are in touch with their emotions and would launch into a long drawn out bout of crying. It becomes unacceptable after some point as this could set a precedent for future reactions. The child would then need to be told that enough is enough. She can be given an alternative transition object to self-soothe, or she can be taught the strategy of accepting replacements for the lost object. Otherwise, she has to accept the reality that a loss is irreversible, and that is that.

After a lapse of time, impart to the child the whole grief process that she has just experienced. That means going through step-by-step with her what happened, explain to her why she needed to cry and that it is good to let it out.  On top of that, teach her that if the loss is small, she cannot hold onto her sadness. After crying for some time, she has to stop and move on.  This was what I went through with my child over a lost hair-clip. Children learn fast and it was amazing that she was able to get over a subsequent lost item instantaneously.  I believe there are many strategies to teach children to manage their feelings. If they learn well, they grow up resilient and confident as they have better sense of control.

Motivation seems inherent in each person according to the passion and interest within. As long as there is slight motivation in anything, it is a good sign that the child can be nurtured to be creative and productive in a particular direction.  Further to that, I would direct her energies towards the values of persistence.  What are the tasks for parents in developing their children’s potential? Make the activity fun, interesting and stimulating. Praise the child for showing great enthusiasm even if she makes mistakes. Guide them towards the right strategies rather than showing them how it’s done. Before you know it, your child would be assimilating, accommodating and applying the relevant skills in different contexts.  Success breeds motivation.

Having said that, nothing beats being attuned to your child’s needs and letting that guide you.

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