During a recent Goalkeepers event hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates got to ask President Barack Obama about one of the public's most pressing questions: essentially, in today's wicked, wild world, how does one raise awesome kids that are ready to step up as tomorrow's leaders? Fortunately for everyone listening, Obama offered up his best parenting advice for the crowd, so make sure you've got your pen and paper out to take some notes — and get ready to be inspired.
While speaking to Obama onstage, Gates asked the former president how he and his wife, Michelle, talked to their two daughters about being leaders. In a country where kids are rapidly hearing more and more about topics like immigration, deportation, and climate change, many parents have wondered how they can use a sometimes scary political climate to help their children become better humans. And while Obama simply talked about instilling leadership values in his teenage girls, a lot of the advice he gave should help parents who are currently wondering how we can raise a more conscientious, involved generation of kids.
"What we’ve tried to communicate their entire lives is that each us has responsibilities," Obama said at the event, according to HuffPost. The key, he said, was teaching his daughters to slowly grow their responsibilities from a small locus of control (say, telling people when they needed to go to the bathroom) to a much larger one that involved others' needs. Here's what other parents should take away from his speech.
Teach Them That Responsibility Is A Privilege, Not A Burden
"Part of what we try to communicate is that being responsible is an enormous privilege," Obama said at the event, according to HuffPost. "That’s what marks you as a fully grown human ― is that other people rely on you, that you have influence, that you can make your mark, and that if you do something well, that will improve other people’s lives."
It's a small thing, but it's a switch in perspective many people could use. Being able to help others is a huge privilege, not a chore or a burden. Children have a pretty good sense of what's "right" and want to help others, so if you take the time to explain how their actions positively impact those around them, it'll help them become better leaders later on.
Encourage Them Step Up To The Plate
"What we’ve tried to encourage is the sense that it’s not somebody else’s job. It’s your job," Obama said, according to HuffPost. "I think that's an ethic they've embraced."
Empathy can feel like a hard trait to teach kids. However, when kids witness something they perceive as an injustice or that makes them sad — say, the effects of a natural disaster or a friend going through a hard time — ask them what they can do individually to help. If they want to set up a lemonade stand for Hurricane Harvey victims or make their friend a get well soon card, help them do it.
Give Them Freedom To Choose How To Take Action
"They will choose to participate in different ways, because they have different temperaments, different strengths," Obama said of his daughters, according to CNBC. "I think one of the mistakes that we sometimes make is to think that there's just one way of making a difference or being involved."
If you are a brilliant engineer, you don’t have to make a speech. You can create an app that allows an amplification or the scaling up of something that is really powerful. If you’re someone who likes to care for people, you don’t have to go out and lead the protest march. You can mentor some kids or work at a local health clinic that is going to make a difference.
By letting kids pick their own paths to helping others, it allows them to grow as individuals while also making a difference.
Help Them Develop A Growth Mentality
"You have to be persistent," Obama said at the event, according to CNBC. "I think we so often get impatient because change does not look as if ― sometime’s it’s not as discernible, or immediate or impactful as we’d imagined in our minds. And we get disappointed, and we get frustrated. For me, that's advice in life and not just in social change."
Teach kids to be persistent, and to come back to challenges that look like failures. Praise them for effort put in, not just the outcome that they get, and help them learn that resilience is key to overcoming problems. This will help your child develop a growth mindset, which will help them in much more than just leadership skills.
It sounds like the Obamas have this parenting thing locked down — and judging by how awesome their two daughters have turned out as they've grown up in front of the nation, it looks like their approach is working pretty well.
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