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START Parent Leadership Series: Step Back and Give Your Kids Space to Develop Essential Skills

The Big Idea

Of the 10 Leadership skills kids need to master before they leave home, almost all emerge and develop more fully when we step back with regularity and let them navigate for themselves. Tons of research confirm that when we give our kids time and space, free from adult direction, they develop the skills of Resilience, Responsibility, and Resourcefulness that they need to thrive and prosper.

This is especially true when kids have the luxury of being bored. Research sited by Pamela Paul in the New York Times article Let Children Get Bored Again “The ability to handle boredom, not surprisingly, is correlated with the ability to focus and to self-regulate.”

Rather than "I'm bored" or "I can't" prompting a response from us to leap in and take action, it's far better for all when we stay on the sidelines and let kids do their own work, knowing boredom and struggle, in the end, is good for them.

Strategy: The Case for Stepping Back

According to business, academic, and child development leaders, mastering a set of ten skills is essential for our kids to succeed in today’s competitive and rapidly changing world. When we step back, boredom and free time provide opportunities for our kids to take the lead, developing and applying their emerging skills in the categories of Responsibility, Resilience and Resourcefulness.

Here are the ten, core skills in the areas of Responsibility, Resilience and Resourcefulness.

Responsible: I know what to do and step up to do it.

1. Self-Direction: They see the big picture. They set appropriate goals, and they take initiative and ownership to do the work necessary to achieve them.

2. Ethics: They choose right over wrong — even when choosing right is harder and no one is watching.

3. Global Awareness: They understand the perspective of others who may have needs and views that are different from their own.

Resilient: I know why I’m the one to do it, and so stay with it, even when it’s hard.

4. Grit: They recover from setbacks and they forge ahead. They are willing, eager, and able to take on worthwhile challenges even when it is hard.

5. EQ: Their social and emotional awareness and skills enable the productive management of themselves and their relationships.

6. Social Responsibility: They put their talents to work to make a difference in ways that are meaningful to their community and to them.

Resourceful: I know how to do it, and I know how to work with others to get it done.

7. Critical Thinking: They have the knowledge, skill, and discipline to conceptualize, analyze, and synthesize information that leads to meaningful and productive decision making and outcomes.

8. Creativity: They have the knowledge, skill, and discipline to apply original ideas to generate meaningful value.

9. Communication: They persuasively give and actively receive essential information.

10. Collaboration: They work with and leverage a group’s talents to realize shared goals.

The work required to develop these skills will take the full 18 years of childhood for our kids. But lately, we parents have been implicated by a wide range of experts in interfering with the process. Here's what you can do instead.

How You Can Take Action

The START Leadership model provides a constructive, productive, and positive path to fostering skill development. The 2nd T in the START Model represents the concept of Training – reflecting the importance of creating opportunities for kids to build and scaffold essential skills over time.

With a bit of prior thought and planning, training opportunities can be woven into daily life. Games, projects, chores, and selected books and movies can be used to support the development of each of the essential leadership skills. And when we step back, boredom and free time provides opportunities for our kids to take the lead and develop new skills.

Even at the youngest ages, our kids benefit from experiencing the meaning and context of these skills and from putting them into practice. For example, a three-year-old learning to play in the sand box, sharing toys and taking turns, is developing her skill in Global Awareness, while an 18-year-old, learning to understand the perspective of others in different communities, cultures, and countries, is doing the same.

To put this knowledge into action, Assess, Track and Create Training Opportunities for development.

1. Assess Skills

Now and over time as your kids mature, assess the extent to which each skill is age-appropriately developed in your kids.

2. Track Skill Development

Document the assessments you make with respect to skills so that you can track improvement or spot areas requiring additional development over time.

3. Create Development Opportunities

Take action to create opportunities that foster the practice and development of skills that are not yet mastered.

As your kids age, continue to create opportunities for them to apply their skills in increasingly complex and sophisticated ways in order to scaffold and build their capabilities.

Coach and Champion their developing levels of mastery, and support them in their consistent use, including Routines (START), when possible.

4. Step Back

Be intentional about creating space and resist the urge to jump in to entertain, rescue, or do their work for them.


All kids are born with the capacity to engage, to innovate, and to lead. In our research and that of the scores of others, we find that the kids who fare best in preparedness and well-being have had opportunities to discover, practice, and develop their leadership skills and abilities in many areas over many years. They have a parent, teacher, or mentor who believes in them and who gives them space to learn to master the skills they need to lead well in their own lives.

To START now, click HERE to download a free copy of the first chapter of START: EquipYour Kids with the Mindset and Skills They Need to Thrive in a Highly Competitive World.

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