How to see Parenting as Leadership. (Hint #1 Don’t Underestimate Children.)

One day, Suzanne said to her five-year-old niece Emma, “My that is a beautiful stuffed lion you have there.”

“I know, I saw it in the store and Mommy bought it for me.”

“That’s nice.”

“Yes. Well, she wasn’t going to.”


“No. She wasn’t going to,” she said. “So I went,” and screwing up her face she acted out, “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” then said, “She took it off the shelf and bought it for me.”

“Huh,” replied Suzanne, hiding her smile. She was delighted by this window into the workings and self-awareness of this delightful five-year old brain.

Later that day in the kitchen Suzanne was talking to her sister and started to tell the story of the cleverness of Emma. However, Emma was there and saw what was coming and broke in with an urgent: “No.”

Realizing what that she was about to betray a confidence, Suzanne stopped. Emma had found a technique for getting what she wanted and the notion that she had this power over her all-powerful mother was important to her.

Later when the sisters were alone they had plenty to talk about. Naturally, Aunt Suzanne found this considerably more delightful than Mommy. Aunt Suzanne was seeing the child’s natural genius at work; Mommy felt duped. She had fallen down on her job a little, and was embarrassed.

But parents need not feel so bad when they drop their guard and revert to their most elemental of responses to the stimulus “Waaaaaaaah.” It is almost comforting for a child to know that their old tried-and-true technique still can work with Mommy. Regression in behavior from manipulative skills to reading development is not a bad thing. In education we are not so much looking for the extinction of old behaviors as the addition of new ones.

The job of educators, parents and teachers alike, is to increase the child’s repertoire of disciplines so that they can make good decisions in new, different and ever-more complex situations. In her marvelous No Bad Kids – Toddler Discipline Without Shame (9 Guidelines) Janet Lansbury identifies nine disciplines for responding well to child behavior. Parents and teachers alike need the full repertoire for best results with children. I love that Janet categorizes the performance of this skill set as leadership. The only way to be an educator is to be a leader.

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7 thoughts on “How to see Parenting as Leadership. (Hint #1 Don’t Underestimate Children.)

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this story and the great link! Children watch and learn from everything parents say and do. If we want them to think before they speak or act, we need to model such behavior for them every step of the way.

  2. Believe it or not, I use the personalities and efforts of children when I talk to groups or individuals about how fundraising can be more successful. In this instance, the child learned how to connect to her mother to get what she wants. Folks looking for support (financial or otherwise), can learn from this. (Children are incredibly unself-conscious, which is a bonus.)

  3. Unfortunately, though, this scenario highlights the way that many parents, due to either good intention but misinformation (believing that the crying is the hurting and if they stop the crying they will be stopping the hurting) cannot or do not want to listen to their children cry about their outrage, disappointments, frustrations, etc. The child learns that they can manipulate their parents by crying and their process of self recovery/healing from past disappointments is cut off when the parent buys them the desired object. Neither side has gained from this interaction, except for an addition of material goods.
    If parents were to sit and listen to their children cry as much as possible and not put a negative label on crying (which now has been proven to be essential to our health — releases toxins, not to mention that one just feels better after a good cry) the children would know that crying will not be effective in getting their parents to do something that they want, other than to bring them closer together and have better connections. (As long as the parent doesn’t get mad at them for crying!)
    As a parent, I have foudn this to be the most useful piece of information for helping my son retain his sense of connection and joy in life.

  4. Thank you, all for your thoughtful responses. It is easier to learn from kids if we see them as training us even as we think we are training them.

  5. Rick, great post and topic. I really appreciate Amy’s comment, too, and agree wholeheartedly! “Fear of crying” creates problems for parents and children, and yet, I understand it. I don’t like hearing a child cry either. But I’ve learned that it is really one of the highest forms of love we can give a child… It’s so much easier to say, “OK, here have it. I don’t care”. And our children may seem somewhat satisfied in the moment, but what they’ve really heard is our “I don’t care.” Giving our children the boundaries they need fosters a solid sense of security — a safe nest — that frees them up to put all that genius to positive use.

    Rick, thanks so much for recommending my discipline post. I’m learning that this is THE #1 issue for parents of toddlers and preschoolers today. And it was the toughest for me as a parent, but well worth the struggle!

  6. Thank you, Janet. …and for the insight that going along with a child’s wishes, requests, demands when you don’t really approve, is to communicate “I don’t care.” …and “I don’t care” is perhaps the worst thing a child can hear. It is a way of saying I don’t love you.

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