Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Not Just The Oldest Can Lead

They say oldest children are natural born leaders. With no one ahead of them to really blaze the trail, its pretty much up to them to get out there as the "guinea pigs" & get the party started. They usually get to try everything first in life because they are "old enough" first. Everything from dance class to starting a new sport is usually their adventure to embark on before any of other siblings get the chance. Younger children are going to tend to emulate the way the oldest talks & acts because they are the primary example the younger kiddos have to look up to, which is good to an extent. But as parents we have to also make sure that our younger kiddos know they are just as capable of leading & just as important as the oldest child is.

Sometimes, not always intentionally, oldest children can tend to be a lil' overbearing. They are more than happy to speak for their younger siblings & get/do things for them that sometimes it can lead to the younger child not wanting to try anymore at all. The oldest can become somewhat of a crutch for them & sometimes the shadow they can cast down may become so burdensome that younger kiddo loses a lil' bit of their own identity & confidence.

Empowering all of your kids to have leadership qualities is definitely a balancing act. While you want your children to feel able & confident in things, you also will want to give them just as much confidence to be able to submit & "follow" when necessary. Have I mastered this art? No, but I believe along the journey of raising 5 children I have picked up some helpful & creative ideas to trying to achieve this balance in each child.

First off, I do not let any of my children speak for each other. Even if the kid doesn't speak yet & "jibberish" is all they know, I try to have them utter some type of response first when asked a question or given a compliment, before anyone else says anything.

Another lil' trick I have found along the way to help each child have their own mind is if you have a question to ask your kids like "How was your day?", ask the youngest first & then make your way up the line. Why? If you have multiple kids then you have probably noticed they will tend to respond in the exact same way the oldest does. Its natural. I know that if I was to ask Aidy what her favorite part of the day was 1st, all the rest of my ladies in the past down the line would say exactly what Aidy did. They look up to her & it takes much less brain power to just copy what she said. So, in an effort to encourage all of my kids to think for themselves & celebrate their own thoughts & feelings, I always ask whoever the youngest is the question first.

Making an effort to have 1 on 1 conversations with each child is also a great way to cultivate the leader inside of them. It will help your child learn to effectively articulate their own thoughts & feelings without relying on anyone else. Date nights with a parent & child are something we try to do once a month in our house. It helps the kids that don't go to learn to be happy for their sibling while also showing the 1 who gets to go on the date how important they are (and like I said, realize that their thoughts & feelings also have value).

Oldest children love being first & as I said earlier they naturally get to do most things before anyone else because they are "old enough" before their other siblings. As awesome as this is, it can also help the oldest to develop a bit of an entitlement attitude which is not so good. So, when I see an opportunity to allow another child to step up & lead & to help the oldest learn to take a back seat & be happy for their sibling, I take it!

Small ways to accomplish this are to have your older child sit & watch their younger siblings when they are in a dance class, playing a sport, or so on. Sometimes parents like to leave siblings home so they don't have to "endure" sitting for a long period of time "doing nothing", but I think these are perfect opportunities to teach our kids (especially the oldest) that it is not always about us. A family is a team & sometimes our role is to sit on the sidelines & encourage our teammate as they work hard to get better & accomplish their dreams. We should be more than happy to celebrate each other & cheer each other on. If we teach our children how to do this from a young age, it won't be so challenging or seem like such a chore to watch another sibling. Its all about attitude & perspective. You will see the inner struggle siblings face during these times its not all about them, but its even sweeter when you notice them conquer it & learn to genuinely be happy for each other.In our family my husband & I model clapping for each other & vocally cheering each other not just during actual sports games or recitals, but even around the house when a sibling voluntarily helps another or overcomes something they have been struggling with. You will see your kids begin to emulate this eventually from their hearts!

That brings me to my next tip, I think we should try to give all our children their own "thing", an opportunity for it to be just about them & learning to stand on their own 2 feet with no sibling to rely on. Now this could be their own dance class, cheer class, swim class, sport or etc. Does that all take money? Absolutely! But you can use some of the free opportunities out there as well to accomplish the same goal. If they are in a class at church that has none of their siblings in it, a library class, taking just them to a free building class at Lowes or Home Depot, a free art class at Michaels, or whatever it can be a great chance to encourage them to speak for themselves & confidently lead. Get creative! It is such an amazing thing to see, I especially notice it in my younger ones, when their face begins to glow as they suddenly see they are more than capable of doing something they were initially unfamiliar with or when they voluntarily start talking to someone new because they realize there is no need to be shy-its priceless!

My youngest girl, Addie, use to be in Gymboree classes until they moved further away from where we live. We planned on finding somewhere new this fall for her to take classes independently again, but I decided that taking just her & her lil' brother to a library class until then would be a great opportunity for her to learn how to lead. Just sitting in the van on the way there with just Addie & her brother you could tell it was already freaking her out a bit. She is use to having her sisters with her most of the time besides the occasional mommy/daddy date or church class on her own. We went into the library & made our way to the classroom. As we sat down I quickly noticed Addie's perky personality take a back seat as huge walls reading "CAUTION" suddenly went up. She had her brother by her side for a lil' bit of support, but 10 minutes in she started bawling. I knew exactly why, she did know what to do with all the attention being all about her. She acted the exact same way at her birthday party this year. She loved the attention yet "hated it" at the same time. She probably felt a lil' overwhelmed. We sure did finish class though & the 3 of us go back every time daddy's schedule allows. She is definitely getting better & I have seen her grow tremendously. She volunteers more, helps her brother, & has begun to really embrace the leadership role in that context.

I could go on about this topic forever because I am extremely passionate about it, being a middle child myself, but I will just leave 1 last tiny tip. You can also empower the younger kids in your pack by taking every opportunity, big or small, to show them just how much they are capable of. My ladies take turns when it comes to passing out meals to everyone, getting the utensils, distributing vitamins, or drinks. From the oldest down to my youngest girl I try to empower them to be in charge of an "important job". It may seem like such a lil' thing until you see the absolute glow of joy on a 2 year old's face as she realizes she has the power to hand a plate of food to each of her big sisters. A gesture this lil' also helps each of the siblings in learning to wait patiently & also be happy for whoever got the honor of handing Monsters Inc gummy vitamins to each kid that day, lol. Also, when you need a child to help you with something, try not to always use the oldest every time. True, they will probably be a lil' more helpful with whatever you need but you also do not burning out the oldest from wanting to help you anymore. By using the younger kiddos sometimes to do these things, it will not only boost their confidence, but also nurture inside of them a genuine passion to want to be more helpful.

We all have the power inside of us to lead. We are all important & what we think or feel matters & deserves to be heard. We don't have to accept the stigmas "the world" puts out there about how our older siblings WILL BE, middle children WILL BE, & youngest children WILL BE. If you see tendencies in your children you do not like, makes steps towards helping them overcome them & change.

-M&M Momma

Guess who is starting
their 1st dance class!

Yes, she picked a dance outfit
that came with one for
Minnie too.

This outfit is SO Aussie!

Beyond excited,
so was mommy if you
can't already tell-lol

All went wonderful!!!

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