To some extent, your child’s genes determine whether he’ll be a strong leader, according to an article published in Psychology Today. DNA is being analyzed to search for genes that "confer leadership ability and other personality traits relevant to business," and a picture — albeit a hazy one — is emerging, say the article’s authors, Mark van Vugt and Anjana Ahuja.
Putting genetics aside however, it’s likely that your preschooler’s personality is already emerging. So what’s a mom to do when her child appears to be less of a leader and more of a natural born follower?
That’s the dilemma I’m facing because my son’s teacher shared that her biggest concern about my son is that he’s too easily influenced by a few trouble-makers in class. At home, too, I’ve noticed he is hesitant to do anything until he can copy and follow in the footsteps of someone else. For my son’s sake, I want him to take more initiative and make good choices. He’ll have to make decisions on his own once he's an adult, after all. So here’s how I plan to give the advantage to nurture over nature, and put him on the path that leads to more independent thinking.
1. Talk About Making Good Choices
While I fret when my preschooler copies another child — his behavior is actually quite common for his age, Circle of Moms members reassure me.
For example, like me, Amber G.'s four-year-old son always wants to do what other kids are doing, even if one of those kids is doing something bad:"He even volunteered to go to the office because another kid went and he wanted to go too, even though the teacher explained that it's not a good thing to be sent to the office," she shares, adding that she doesn't want him "getting into bad [things] and turning into a bad kid because he wants to be like everyone else."
To ensure that a childhood tendency to be a follower doesn’t turn into a permanent personality trait however, Circle of Moms members suggest moms like me talk about good choices with our children. "All kids are followers to some extent. They are still learning about the world, so will do what others do, good or bad. You have to instruct him on which is the right way and how to make good choices," advises Alisha N.
"Moms must let their children understand the true meaning of being an independent person," Cecille I. adds. "To put this into effect, you should let [your child] know the importance and practice of responsibility. Knowing her responsibilities will make it easier for her to cope with her obligations as [she] grows up."
2. Give Options
Moms Amy E., Candace S. and Tiffany A. suggest preschoolers practice making good decisions. Candace describes starting your child off with choices over little stuff. "For example, let him pick out what he's going to wear in the morning: 'This shirt, or this one?' 'These pants or those?' Do this with as much stuff as you can: 'Milk or water?' 'Bath or shower?' 'This story or that one?'”
"Make up situations that can come up with school, and help him learn what his 'instead' options are," adds Tiffany. "Practice [decision-making] like you're his classmates; they love to pretend, and it will help better than your telling him not to do what the do."
When you give your child choices: "It makes them feel more responsible for their decisions," Amy explains.
As Maricelis M. says, being a follower in preschool can be a phase, and you don’t want to to allow that phase to grow into something your child will always do. "Allowing your child to build his self confidence and make some choices on the smaller scale of his daily routine. As time passes he'll graduate from making really small decisions to slightly more important ones. [Then he can] reap the benefits of making good decisions, but also understanding and dealing with the consequences of making bad decisions," she explains.
3. Reward Good Decisions
As your child starts to get the hang of making choices, praise and reward his good decisions. As Candace advises, "Allow him to take natural consequences for poor ones. . . . Let him make his own decisions about little stuff, thus teaching him how to make decisions about bigger stuff." And when your child makes good decisions and commend him with pride and joy for each positive step he achieves, he'll want to continue to elicit that positive response from you, adds Pamela L.
4. Introduce Chores
Chores are an excellent way to build self-confidence and teach the kind of responsibility that comes naturally to leaders. Even preschoolers can be given small tasks — like getting meals and snacks ready, giving a cashier the money, taking the change, and helping to pack the groceries in the bag.
"Show them the task and how it is done, then let them do it,” Valerie says. “Don’t step in unless they ask or can get hurt." Then, complement and reward your child for doing well.
Denikka G. feels similarly that giving kids chores encourages their independence. Her son has been helping her around the house since he was about two years old, and now that he’s three-and-a-half, he helps to unload the dishwasher, load the laundry, sweep and vacuum, wash his own body, brush his own teeth, and wipe himself after going potty. "If they're capable, why shouldn't they be doing it, or at least taking an active role in helping?" she asks.
Chores followed by positive encouragement for a job well done helps children feel like they have control of parts of their lives, explains Jessica W. "It makes them feel safe and comfortable when they can be in control of something in their little world."
Susanne K. agrees, adding that chores help children to know that they are needed. "If they have to help, they will have a higher self-worth."
5. Don't Do Everything for Your Child
Janet P. says the best way to teach your child to be more of a leader and less of a follower is to stop being there at every turn. "[Children] learn to be independent because you back off and let them handle thing on their own," she adds.
Arleen L. agrees, saying parents shouldn't solve every problem for their child. "Encourage him/her to think through a situation; work through and eliminate your own fears; build confidence by believing in their abilities; instill self-worth by loving unconditionally (that does not mean giving in!); stay firm in your convictions; and give consistent expectations and rewards," she says.
Moreover, if you fail to teach your child to make choices, take responsibility, be independent and be self-reliant, then you can’t expect him to take things seriously and act his age when it’s time to, cautions Kate S.
This last point resonated with me. As a parent, it’s not only my responsibility to love, care and protect my preschooler, but also to teach him how to take care of himself and prepare him for life on his own.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.