Look at your children. They are expected to be the new leaders: politicians; activists; lawyers; writers; men and women who will fight against racial discrimination, improve today’s education system, and help the poor. Will they be ready for the challenge?
As we celebrate historical black leaders this month, let’s also consider shaping the black leaders of tomorrow.
One of the most powerful ways you can help your child is by fostering their leadership skills. Such a lesson will not only influence your child, but the world. Want to start? Below are ways you can teach your children to lead in their everyday lives, so by seeing themselves as leaders, they may gain the confidence to lead the next generation, just like those celebrated this month.
Teach your child to withstand peer pressure
The pressure of peers is highly influential. Children are influenced by their peers through their style of dress, their choice of music, and even their decision to date. It takes a unique teenager to go against that grain. So show your child how to be unique. Sit and talk with your child about healthy peer pressure (influencing you to accomplish your goals) and unhealthy pressure (influencing you to veer away from your goals). Discuss with your child what she values and what your family values. Let your child know that overcoming peer pressure relies on maintaining her personal values. Then, teach your child how to manage her relationships with peers while upholding her values. For example, if she’d rather stay honest than allowing a friend to cheat off her math homework, prepare your child for that situation by role-playing it. Share with your child ways she can turn down a friend without severing the relationship. Let her know that although she may be the odd girl in the bunch, Rosa Parks was also odd by choosing to break the rules of a system followed by most in the South. By citing other black leaders, your child may see that the people who stand out are often the people who make change.
Teach your child to be an upstander
Upstanders stand up against bullying. While bystanders allow bullying to happen, upstanders try to prevent or stop it. Bullying is an unfortunate prevalence in many schools, so your child may, unfortunately, have the opportunity to show leadership traits through his or her “upstanding” service often. In order to help your children be upstanders, discuss with them the impact they could have on their schools and communities if, instead of watching bullying happen, they told a teacher, parent, or police officer. Role play bullying incidents that might happen at your child’s school and demonstrate ways they could be an upstander (e.g., refusing to laugh or join in when someone is being teased, making friends with those who are bullied, and telling a trusted adult when they see bullying happen). Let them know that by standing up against injustices in school, like bullying, they are preparing themselves to stand up against injustices in this world, like racism and sexism.
Teach your child to acknowledge others
Finally, let your child know that leaders recognize great talent. Although we often hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name during Black History Month, let your child know that in his corner were E.D. Nixon, head of the NAACP who helped Dr. King plan the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Bayard Rustin, who counseled King on using non-violent tactics. By using Dr. King and other examples, show your children that leaders don’t just lead others, they honor the gifts within others, and use them to help influence change. Show your child how to recognize the gifts in others by having them say one good thing about each of their classmates, or push them to name one thing each of their friends or family members do well.
Then discuss how those talents can be best applied in one situation or setting. For example, you may ask How would Jack, Mike, Tonya, and Jena work together to clean this room? Get them to identify ways that everyone can contribute based on their strengths. For example, Mike could fix the broken dresser drawers since he’s good with his hands, and Jena could tidy up the closet since she has great organizational skills.
Reflecting on such questions can help your child realize that everyone has strengths that may be used for a common goal.