How to Build Leadership Qualities in Kids

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Not every child is a born leader, but every child can learn (and benefit from) leadership skills, even if there is no desire to lead anyone or anything. 

Kids who have well developed leadership skills are more confident and responsible, and are not afraid to make mistakes. They learn creative coping skills, the art of compromise, empathy towards others and good decision-making skills. Whether leadership comes naturally to your children or could use some work, parents can help develop and teach these important qualities which will serve them well in the years to come. Here is how to instill leadership qualities in children. Scroll down for a list of afterschool activities that can help build these skills as well.

Set an Example

Parents can demonstrate to kids what a good leader looks like by being optimistic, treating people fairly, choosing to do the right thing, and by being a good listener. Kids will start to learn these skills by modeling your good example. 

Set Kids Up for Success

Build confidence by encouraging kids to participate in activities where they have natural strengths and talent. Assist kids with projects just enough to help them succeed, but allow them to do the majority of the decision-making and work. Rewarding experiences like these help kids become more willing to venture out of their comfort zones and even help others.

Build Communication Skills

What’s the most important part of communication? Listening! Encourage children to practice listening, speaking in front of others, and expressing frustrations in a healthy way. Have children order their own food at restaurants, encourage them to approach coaches or teachers when there is a problem, and teach them to ask questions after listening to a friend. 

Be a Team Player

You may have a child who prefers to work independently of others, but take note: Participating in school projects, team sports, clubs, choir and other group activities help kids practice communication skills and learn patience and selflessness as they work together towards a common goal. These are invaluable life skills.

Admit Mistakes

Integrity, humility, empathy and respect are wonderful characteristics for any individual, young or old. Encourage these qualities by talking through situations where they were (or were not) utilized well. Use your own experiences as an example. Ask your children how they would handle a situation differently and why. Praise them when they make good decisions and provide encouragement where needed.

Value Diversity

Our world is made up of many different backgrounds, experiences and contributions. Help kids to learn about other cultures and abilities (and to place value in how people can contribute) by practicing this as a family. Differences—and appreciating them in others—are what make stronger teams. Kids can learn to stand up to peers who are singled out or viewed as different from others. 

Ask for Help

Knowing when to problem solve and when to ask for guidance is a skill that many parents are still learning! It’s almost always best to start with trying to work through issues, but teach kids it’s OK to ask for help, if needed. It’s also important to offer help (or a listening ear) to peers. Lead by example and be encouraging and helpful.

Develop Good Work Habits

Kids who have responsibilities at a young age are better prepared to assist or lead others. Assign chores to children as part of a working family unit. Encourage older kids to build leadership skills and work ethic by volunteering or doing part-time jobs such as yardwork, pet care or babysitting.

Teach Time Management

When children have large projects to complete, encourage them to map out a plan for getting it done on-time. Create steps and set goals to accomplish smaller parts to meet the deadline. Good project management skills will serve individuals well in the future. 

As children develop leadership skills, it’s important—for you and them—to understand that they will not always be in charge. Good leaders build up and encourage others. Being respectful in a group and willing to listen and compromise are also ways to lead others. Whether your children are natural leaders or great teammates, these qualities will serve them well in the future.


Extracurricular Activities that Build Leadership Skills

  • Team Sports—Being part of a team helps kids learn to work as a group and understand the art of leading and following others.  
  • Student Government—Student council or government helps kids learn to build speaking and negotiating skills.
  • Starting a Club—If your child is interested in something specific, other kids their age probably are as well. Starting a club is a great way to learn how to develop leadership with others who share common interests.
  • Volunteer Work—Giving the gift of time and service helps kids learn to put others first, work on projects for the greater good and develop a good work ethic. 
  • Academic Teams or Clubs—Academic teams or clubs such as robotics, mathletes, speech and debate, National Honors Society and science club are great ways to build skills and confidence in areas that interest kids, but also provide leadership skills they can use in college and the workforce.
  • Music and Arts—Choir, orchestra, band and theater also offer the benefits of working as a group toward a common goal.
  • Scouts—Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts provide opportunities to work as a team and individually while helping others, often in a diverse environment. They participate in volunteer work, team building, mentoring, skill-building and more. 

Sarah Lyons is a freelance writer and mom of six, including triplets. She enjoys writing, reading, and spending time outside with her kids. 

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