Ever seen a young child have a remarkably epic meltdown at exactly the wrong moment? If you are a parent or a teacher, you’ve experienced it. A child that is so overcome with emotion or passion, explodes in the aisle of Target, or in the middle of the classroom right as a visitor walks in. Our very youngest students at Aspen Academy are not exempt from moments just like this and our goal (our responsibility) is to provide the structure, safety, and skills to navigate them.
What on earth does leadership have to do with it? Everything. Leadership is often misunderstood. We frequently associate the word leader with the person at the front of the room, commanding everyone else’s attention. But with a shift in paradigm, we might recognize that leadership simply begins with the capacity to lead one’s self. And self leadership, begins as early as those parenting and school lessons can occur.
- Leadership is about awareness. In teaching leadership to young children we first focus on teaching them self awareness. When children develop the ability to recognize their emotions, and name them, so they can normalize the experiences they are having, which provides a framework for safety.
- Leadership is about communication. So often we find ourselves telling young children to, “Use your words.” We are teaching them to communicate their wants and needs to others. Teaching children to find healthy ways to express themselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.
- Leadership is about connection. One of our greatest needs as humans is the ability to build and maintain relationships with others - family, friends, peers, colleagues, etc. When should we start teaching students what it means to do just that? Early.
- Leadership is about creativity. Ever observed four year olds playing? I once watched my own children play together and in a span of less than five minutes they had taken cars full of horses to the ocean for a swim, turned those cars into submarines for a shark viewing, and moments later saved a major league baseball stadium from a deadly fire. Children are the most creative thinkers on our planet! Sir Ken Robinson tells us that creativity is just about putting our imagination to work. So let’s teach our kids to do just that.
Circle back to that remarkably epic meltdown from a few moments prior….
What if instead, that child was able to be aware of the anger that prompted it, use their words to tell someone how angry they were, and grab the hug and creative solution that could send it all in a different direction? Fantasy? Maybe. Goal? Definitely.
Ways to cultivate leadership in four year olds:
(Or forty year olds….it’s really the same thing! Ha!)
- Talk about emotions. Name them. Model the naming of your own emotions. Teach children to recognize signs of emotions in others. When you are angry or sad, tell them to look at your face. Teach them the signs of what that looks like. Reading our own emotive cues is one part of it. Reading the emotive cues of others is the other part.
- Talk about how to be a good friend to others. When children practice being a good friend, and have a framework for what that looks like, they naturally begin to recognize when others are not being a good friend to them. Healthy expectations and boundaries with others are a necessary part of quality relationships.
- Play! Let children create and imagine. Our children do not need to be engaged in a million activities in order to learn. Ensure that unstructured time for play exists in each and every day.
About the Author:
Katie Becker is Director of Aspen Entrepreneurial Institute and Aspen Youth Leadership Institute at Aspen Academy.
Katie came to Aspen Academy in 2009 and has served as a Teacher, Instructional Coach, Character and Leadership Director, and Middle School Director. She began working in architecture after graduating from CU Boulder but soon found that her heart was in education. She then earned her Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and went on to hold teaching positions in middle school and elementary grades.
She believes that seeing the student as the most critical aspect of education and allowing them to flourish based on who they are is what draws her so close to Aspen and its ideals. She has three children and enjoys everything that the beautiful mountains have to offer, including skiing, hiking, and biking, as well as spending time with interior design, books, and a camera.
Katie is available to speak on various topics in leadership and entrepreneurship to community groups. Click here to contact Katie about speaking.