Empowering Children: The Ripple Effect

12/11/2016 07:17 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2017

I've spent decades working in the classroom and in education policy, which has involved great deal of time thinking about and discussing the factors necessary to help children grow into confident and successful adults. Each of the tips I share are techniques I truly believe in, but I also know: for kids to retain life lessons and build confidence, they must feel empowered.

Empowerment, simply put, means to give power - or authority. The concept of giving authority to children - all children - may give you pause. But consider this: when guided correctly, an empowered young person will feel capable and confident in inspiring greatness in their peers. A child who sees their own value is not only more likely to surmount obstacles, but to assist others in difficult situations. As educators and parents, we spend a lot of time trying to protect kids from the negatives of peer pressure. Let's take that one step further and think about how an empowered child can cause a ripple effect of confidence and accountability.

Encourage ownership of the learning experience, and create a forum for meaningful engagement. I'm sure we've all encountered children that are reluctant to participate in class, even to the point of shying away from group projects with classmates. While I would never suggest a timid child can't be a stellar student, I feel strongly that every student have an active role in their education. This means making sure every child in your class - or household - knows they are welcome to speak up. Although it's essential to set boundaries for young people, questions and valid opinions should not be limited and appropriate time should be provided for both. To go one step further, consider allowing your students or children to suggest topics for class (or dinner table) discussions.

Allow children to make choices, and accept failure...and consequences. It's necessary that we provide children with the opportunity to make choices from a young age. Inevitably, every child is faced with decisions throughout life when they are not being monitored or guided by an adult. I'm not suggesting you allow your child to participate in reckless behavior or avoid their responsibilities, but I am saying you should allow them to make some decisions that may result in failure. For example, forgoing additional study time for a fun activity. A child that fails the test and is forced to accept the consequences will learn, with proper guidance, to develop the initiative to make the correct decision in the future.

Lead by example. I've written about modeling behavior before, and it's important to mention it here again. Children look to the adults in their life for examples of how to behave, especially in difficult situations. Our goal should be to help every child clearly understand the expectations for their actions and reactions, feel empowered to make choices, and think about how their behavior impacts others. Children who not only hear these concepts, but see them exhibited by the adults around them, are best positioned to become peer leaders who expect and guide others to act with consideration and respect.

Do you have any examples of how empowered students have made a difference in your classroom or community? Share your story and tips in the comments.