A Follower, Not a Leader

father and son

Question: My son who is 8 tends to be a follower and goes with what everyone else wants. He does whatever others like and do. I want to help teach him or give him the confidence to be a leader and not care if he likes or does things differently. I am afraid he will follow the bad behavior of the wrong kids. What can I do to help with confidence and leadership? I have already tried talking to him about it without success.

Answer by Dyan Eybergen, author of Out of the Mouths of Babes: Parenting from a Child’s Perspective. Dyan is a paediatric psychiatric nurse, has more than ten years experience working as a therapist and parent educator. Dyan and her family were guests on the cable television show “For Kids Sake”, along with parenting expert Barbara Coloroso. Eybergen resides in St. Albert, Alberta, with her husband and three sons.

Answer: Your son sounds like he may fall into the category of people pleaser. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as they are usually the most compassionate and generous sorts. However, I do appreciate your fear of him not being able to stand up for himself if he is always listening and doing what other people tell him to.

Here are some suggestions to try that may be beneficial for you and your son.

• Nurture his strengths and talents and set him up with opportunities where he will succeed. If he shows special aptitude in a particular area then support those interests. He is more apt to find leadership opportunities in situations where his strengths are essential and welcomed.

mother and son

• Whenever appropriate and possible give him choices for making decisions. As he gets older the choices you give him will carry more and more responsibility. As he gains skill at making decisions he will more accurately weigh the pros and cons of each choice. So when he is with the “wrong kids” he will have experience with discerning right choices from wrong ones.

• Encourage him to be more assertive. Invite his friends over and give him opportunities to set the agenda for play. Have him ask the other kids over to play a certain game of your son’s choice. As he gets practicing doing this on his own turf he may be less reluctant to be assertive out the schoolyard.

• Get him to assess his own worth at every opportunity by asking thought provoking questions about how he feels about a situation. You will have to find the right way to ask though, open ended questions will only give you yes or no answers. For example: “How does it make you feel to always play whatever everyone else wants to play?” Instead of: “Did you want to play what everyone else was playing?” If he gives you answers that suggests he feels bad about himself ask him to give you reasons for why that’s not true – if he can’t give you any examples then you give them to him based on fact.

A Recent Conversation:

Son: “I don’t think my friends like the games I play because they think they’re weird.”

Mom: “Well somebody invented that game and it sells in stores so what do you think about that?”

Son: “I think that people like different things.”

Mom: “Yeah, could you imagine if we liked all the same things and everyone was the same?”

Son: “Life would be very boring.”

Mom: “Yes. And when you play those games do you have fun or are you bored?”

Son: “Fun, and I do have some people who will play them with me and have fun too.”

This was an actual conversation – I can’t guarantee it will go this way for everyone but the point is to try and get children to assess their own worth and decide for themselves that it is ok to like different things.

I would also suggest that you take an accurate assessment of who your child is. Not everyone is a leader but that does not mean that they can’t contribute to society in a meaningful way. Your son may be content with “going with the flow” and as long as he has good morals and supportive parents, he will be alright. You may discover that he will not follow the “wrong kids”, but that he may follow the “right” ones.

Comments

  1. THANK YOU for this information. I, too, have an 8-year-old son who follows many but leads few. I carry the same burden of “will he follow the bad boys” and appreciate having some tools in my belt to help him succeed. Keep up the wonderful work.

  2. Where would we be if the world was filled with leaders? I do not see your son as a follower, nor a people pleaser. I see your son as a supporter of energy. He is able to step in and support those around him. I would be more apt to guide him in trusting his inner voice so that he can choose if a situation or person is what he wants to support. Does he have the inner wisdom to guide himself in knowing when his work is done and it’s time to move and support another. Within these relationships, he will discover more of who he is. He may do years of research or support work/play before he has acquired enough information to step out front and lead in a “new way”… a “supportive way”. Many blessings to him and to you. Trust him… that he is on his path… there is so much for you to learn from his path. smiles, Tina

  3. Jo Ella McIntosh says:

    I too, appreciate this information. My husband and I were having a conversation about this very thing just the other night concerning our 6 year-old. Thanks so much for publishing this. Now, we are able to “have some tools in our belts” as well.

  4. If you have neighbors or friends with younger children, put your child in charge of teaching them something new, playing a game with them, or even just hanging out together having fun. A child may feel insecure with other children their age or older but really shine as leaders with younger children.

  5. very good article. I have 5 years old son, and he was so much into lego.
    recently, he no longer show the same interest on lego because he discovered that
    non of his friends are good in lego. I keep wondering how/what to talk to him about it. now i have a tool to handle this.
    Thanks a lot.

  6. Jo-Anne Layton says:

    Excellent idea Florie! And so are the others.

    – ‘Critical Thinking Ability’ is a term I have heard to describe analysis of situations /actions and outcome.

    – Encouraging /educating ourselves & children to assess Feelings, Facts, and possible-likely-unlikely Outcomes, is time well spent.

    – Discuss ‘WHAT IF’ scenarios: “If (trouble) happens when you are with the guys at the Mall tonight, what will you do? Why? What happened last time? What could happen? What are some of your alternatives? (“Plan B?”).

    When discussing activity plans with children, always try to assess THEIR feelings & ideas first, before Neutrally inserting your own – that way you know Where your child’s thinking is at to begin with, and where they need additional insight /boundaries set, etc.

    ** Children whose feelings / self-worth are not validated in other areas of their life may have difficulty trusting their instincts & feelings in peer situations. **

  7. There is absolutely nothing wrong in being a “follower” at 8 years old.
    Just make sure his activities are with people,young and old, that have good moral character. My children all turned out extremely well because they had good coaches and good club leaders and great Sunday School teachers.
    God created each of us in his image. And when we look into a mirror we should see “love”.
    Sometimes parents just worry way too much that their kids are not “leaders.” I am sorry to say that too many times this gets translated to the child that they are lacking. The dis approval they feel sometimes sends them to the “bad crowds” where they can get approval. So watch the message you are sending to your kids!
    We need followers. Not everyone is to be a leader. The trick is to get your kids to follow the good examples that you have set for them.
    Give the kids a break!

  8. Wow thanks to Tina’s reply – that is an awesome way to look at it. My son is 9 and is so placid that he will do anything that is asked of him (except homework hee hee) and i sometimes wish he had a little more fight in him. I know that he will probably not become top of the class or headboy because of his personality but i do know that he is loved by everyone with whom he meets because he is so easy going and friendly. I love my boy!

  9. Following is okay as long as the leader is a good/safe/responsible leader. One of the “mistakes” we make as parents is unintentionally training out kids to look to others for their self esteem. We tell them they are good. We rarely teach them to recognize their own goodness. How can we do this?
    When a child does something where we would normally say “wow you did a great job” we can instead say “I bet you’re proud of yourself for doing such a good job” with reinforcement the child begins to be able to be pround of their own decisions and accomplishments they don’t need others approval. Will they still follow the pack – probably but only as far as and for as long as the pack is behaving in a way that the child can continue to feel good about themselves based on what they are doing and thinking not on what the ringleader is saying. That is a healthy follower!

  10. Probably this is the stage that our children undergo. My daughter went through the same thing when she was around 7 or 8 years old. What I did was to just talk to her and lead her to make her own decisions and do not depend on me and other kids around her. And gladly I’m a proud mom that she has grown to be a respectful and obedient daughter.

    Thanks for sharing this to us…

    Cheers, Eva

  11. Faye Bennett says:

    Thank you. Our Cub Scout pack had a meeting last night and one of points of our discussion was on this topic. In every society, organization, clug or group, there will always be leaders and followers. We can all learn to be both at different times in order to truely appreciates both sides. I appreciate this discussion. I’ve leaned so much from all of you. Thank you all.

    Faye

  12. Katie Mandel says:

    I think the main point is that children should be the leaders of their own individuality, rather than being the followers of what is considered in society as “typical” behavior and thoughts. I also agree that it’s ok to be a follower, but when children fear the scorn of the majority for being different they begin to lose thier control over thier individualism. If children are the leaders of themselves, they will have the confidence to express their ideas.