How to Get Children to Behave? Be a Leader

How can we get our children to behave? Simple: Learn to lead like the great conductors.

Simple, but not necessarily easy. Bob’s story about how his five-year-old son resolved a conflict gives us a vision of what the result can look like, and some clues as to what works.

Bob and son, Ty, walked into a clothing store, and first thing, saw a mother yelling at her four-year-old son. The son yelled back, and the mother lashed out with a blow to the arm. Her son reacted with a yelp and more anger, which produced more hitting and more yelling. Bob began to move toward the two, intending to intervene.

“I hate to see parents abusing their children. I never could just stand by. I have to get involved,” he later confided.

Ty was also visibly upset. But sometimes children are smarter than adults. Here is what Ty did: He reached into his backpack and took out a transformer he kept with him at all times. Approaching the fighting couple he got there before his father. Smiling, he gave the transformer to the boy, who smiled back. Then the mother smiled at him, too, and said, “Thank you.” They all then went back to their hunt for clothing.

Later, Bob told me: “I keep learning from my son. Ty keeps showing me how I could do better. My intention was to confront her angry behavior directly. It would only have made her anger worse, of course. It certainly would not have made that mother smile. (Who are you to tell me how to raise my kid?) We can all imagine how ineffective my righteously indignant intervention would have been. Ty, on the other hand, fixed the situation.

“What I didn’t appreciate (and didn’t give the mother credit for) was that she, in fact, did realize her behavior was inappropriate. That wasn’t the issue – it was that she was out of control. On some level, Ty realized this and his approach – which was to diffuse the situation through kindness kept her dignity in place, made her smile and replaced her anger with appreciation. He offered peace – while I was going to offer advice. His approach was clearly – and significantly – more effective!”

Bob is showing us how to lead like the great conductors. How to lead so that there is room for his son to exercise social responsibility and show us what he is capable of. Children often can lead us, and when they do, it’s a sign that we have been leading them well.

So How do we get our children to behave?  Itay Talgam shows us how it’s done in his TED talk “Lead like the Great Conductors.”

Listen for these lessons from the great conductors:

  1. You cannot parent by the book. Be authentic.
  2. Good parents create the conditions in which people listen to each other, and the best way to get kids to listen to you is to for them to have a lot of experience of you listening to them.
  3. Responsibility doesn’t mean controlling others. Children are partners, and we can learn from them, just as they can learn from us.
  4. Use coercive authority when it is needed, but don’t mistake coercion for authority.
  5. Authority is not a zero-sum game. Increasing a child’s authority does not mean diminishing parental authority—just the opposite.
  6. The brain is a meaning-making machine. Engage the family in examining the meaning of events and collaborate to create the meaning we collectively want through stories. What is our story? Is it the story we want? Who will take responsibility to create the story we all want?
  7. When leadership is really working, it feels joyful and effortless.

Leaders create the conditions that bring out leadership in others. If our role as educators is to lead each child’s genius out into the world to function creatively, effectively and gracefully within it, then we must learn to lead, and learn from leading.

But this list is too long to remember, and I don’t recommend trying. Instead, assume that children naturally want to be authorities, that they want challenges (even if it hurts), that they want to take responsibility, make decisions, make mistakes, and learn from consequences—just like the rest of us. (Actually kids tend to be better at all this than adults.)

The best kind of parenting comes from parents being their authentic self which will include saying “No” when “No” is called for. Kids are looking for authenticity in adults, for only then can they know that they are getting the truth.

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7 Responses to How to Get Children to Behave? Be a Leader

  1. Anne Marie Schar says:

    Sometimes I think I’m more the mother in the store than the father with the boy….

  2. Rick says:

    You are not alone, Anne Marie. Children challenge us to find “the better angels of our nature.”

  3. Tracy says:

    “Responsibility (can also substitute “Authority”) doesn’t mean controlling others” is the take away for me that sums up the others.

  4. Rick says:

    How’s this:
    Be an authority and take responsibility is such a way that others to do the same.

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