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To Build SEL Skills, Let Your Kids Take the Lead in Family Meetings


The Big Idea

It’s not new news that EQ (emotional intelligence) eclipses IQ (cognitive ability) in predicting success. It makes sense. Being able to read and respond to the emotions of others and to read and regulate our own emotions is essential to faring well in life. Why then are the number of socially and emotionally skilled students (and adults) at an all-time low?


There’s consensus that today’s narrow focus on performance and achievement along with the high stakes testing culture robs kids of the experiences they need to develop essential life skills and has taken a toll on developing agency, self-direction, and SEL skills. While Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has become a priority for most schools in North America, it’s been slow to gain traction, and our kids can’t wait.


Fortunately, parents’ actions, interactions, and the culture they create in their family provide the most powerful and enduring influence on the degree to which their kids develop social and emotional skills. The kids of parents who prioritize, model, and lead with social and emotional intelligence exhibit more sophisticated decision making and awareness of themselves and their relationships than the kids whose parents don’t. They learn to take the lead and lead well. And they’re more resilient in the face of stress.


Here’s how one parent did it, using family meetings as a model.



The First Step

The experience of a Bay Area (California) dad makes the case for building and then modeling our own social and emotional leadership skills in order to support their development in our kids.


The Leadership Lab we do with parents in our client schools and communities typically includes three workshops, scheduled several weeks apart. The coursework for the first lab is to complete a strengths assessment to identify your natural wiring and then to articulate the ways in which you have effectively applied this wiring in the actions, interactions, and work you do - both personally and professionally. The purpose is to learn the language and experience the process firsthand in order to model, teach, and then reinforce it in your kids.


The next assignment is to work on a Strategy with your kids that reflects your family’s vision, values, and goals. This foundational work creates opportunities to discover, discuss, and then prioritize what’s most important to each member of the family. (Read more on the WIN and START Process)



No One Showed Up but the Dog

At our second workshop, Ron, the father to triplet sons in the 7th grade, shared that he had tried to do this work with his kids and wife but had been unsuccessful.


“What happened?” I asked.


“I announced at dinner last night that we’d be working on a family strategy after dinner and that everyone should report to the living room at 7:00. I waited. No one showed up but the dog.”


“Any idea why?” I asked.


“No... Well... Maybe.” he said. “It might have something to do with the fact that my number one strength is Command. In commanding the kids to attend, I might not have been as socially and emotionally attuned to the situation as I could have been."


To be clear, a commanding style has its place. In a crisis or to keep very young kids safe from harm, a commanding approach is essential. But day to day, especially as our kids get older, it can interfere with our kids’ development of agency, self-direction, and social and emotional skill development.


In the past few years, Ron reported that in fact his kids had become less engaged and less communicative with him. In our discussion, he began to see that this increasing distance might have been influenced by his default leadership style.


Taking Action

Discussing his options, Ron determined that he would offer an apology to his kids for the limiting impact his top down, commanding style had on their opportunities to voice their thoughts and perspectives, make decisions for themselves, and to take the lead in their own lives. He committed to commanding himself not to be commanding with the family and to asking them to remind him of this intention, if he slipped back into his old patterns.


To demonstrate this commitment, he gave the START Family Workbook to his sons and invited them to take the lead in determining how best to develop a strategy for the family, which they did. Further, he invited them to take the lead in scheduling and running regular family meetings in which they could discuss their progress on living their values and achieving their goals.


In the third lab, Ron shared that the transformation in the family dynamics had been remarkable. The boys were engaging and speaking up more, and there was a lightness in their interactions. Having completed their WIN Maps at school, they were working to put their strengths to work at home as well as at school. Conversations shifted from homework, grades, and scores to values, interests, and experiences.


Ron was successful in modeling for his sons what being socially and emotionally skilled looks like - including the reflection, attention, and intention that are required. He modeled, at 44, that it’s a life-long process requiring humility and a willingness to always be learning.


When the research shows that EQ eclipses IQ in predicting success, it is precisely these experiences that lead to the development of this mindset and skillset that make the difference. You can START now to create an environment at home where your kids can discover, develop, and become their best selves as they learn to take the lead in their own lives. Consider letting them take the lead in drafting the family Strategy and in designing and running the family meetings. In the process, you'll equip them with the everyday life and leadership skills they need to thrive and prosper in today’s increasingly competitive and rapidly changing world.


Further Reading

More on how to use 5 best practice leadership principles to create an environment at home where kids can be, become, and contribute their best is on the START website and on the Blog Post: Don't Wait to Teach Your Kids the Leadership Skills They Need to Thrive and Prosper and in the books START for Families and START in the Classroom.

available in the START store or on Amazon

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