How To Leverage Your Influence With Your Children (Without Promoting Mindless Agreement)
Influence has been described as "our inner ability to lift people up to our perspective" (Joseph Wong). I am not sure how I feel about that definition. Why? Because to me, influence seems more like an extroverted trait, an external ability. Additionally, I don't like the idea that one person's perspective is 'higher' or 'above' another person's -- it is just an opinion I don't ever adhere to.
When it comes to our children, being the parent already puts us -- our words, decisions, and rules -- on a pedestal; one which is supposedly, as an unwritten yet subscribed to rule, not allowed to be stepped on by our child(ren). But it's time to shatter that notion.
I do believe that as parents, we should be sharing with our children our perspective on things -- big things, small things, things that affect their daily lives, things that don't directly affect them but that are real things affecting other people, things that are going on in the world -- the list goes on. However, there is a difference between using your power of influence to shape your child's mind frame on an issue, versus using your power of influence to relay a certain perspective, while not touting that perspective as being the almighty "right" one.
Of course, there are certain topics where we want to influence our children, right? We want to teach and encourage them to respect all people. We want to teach and encourage them to care for their bodies. We want to teach and encourage them to only form and stay in healthy relationships. We want to teach and encourage them to be strong. But the worst way to do this is by infecting them with our opinion and influence without also taking the time to explain our stance, while still informing them of other perspectives held by different people on certain topics.
Additionally, when our children come of a certain age, they can easily pick up on their parents attempting to "sway" them in a particular direction. But, if they feel as though you are openly discussing all aspects, opinions, and perspectives while backing up your own stance with logical reasoning and experience, it is more likely you will get through to them.
So, what is the correct way to leverage your influence with your children? I don't have all of the answers, but I do have some suggestions and those I will share.
- Be clear in your opinion. Don't be passive in the delivery of your perspective.
- Explain any words they don't understand and answer any and all question they may have.
- Welcome their difference of opinion if they have one, and thank them for expressing it.
- Discuss all perspectives and opinions on certain topics, and encourage them to always seek those out so that they can fully grasp an issue from all sides.
- Remind them that your stance on a particular issue is based on your own personal experiences.
- Be sure to relay the fact to them that personal opinions are great, but that they must always be respectful of others' opinions.
Ultimately as parents all we really want is to guide our children to be "great" people, as I discussed in Guiding Our Sons to Be Great Men. And yes, as their parent you have the power to influence them. Yet my suggestion for you is this:
When your children are young and even when they are older, always, always, always be sure that your influence is motivated by the desire to raise a respectful human who will make this world a better place, and not the desire to raise a head-nodding, appeasing child who aimlessly agrees with you because of your authoritative status.
The only influence I really care about is that I am being a POSITIVE one.