Parenting 101
Director vs. leader

What, or rather, who is "The Director"? The Director is really the controller of all things in the home. Many of us are familiar with this role, as it sounds something like this:

  • "Get your shoes on."
  • "Go get your book bag."
  • "Eat your vegetables."
  • "Sit up straight."
  • "Leave your sister alone."
  • "Stop that!" 
  • "Go change your clothes, comb your hair and brush your teeth."

For many of you, this may seem like second nature. Despite the exhausting, frustrating and somewhat brain-deadening nature of these never-ending instructions, we often believe that it’s necessary. But it’s not! Children thrive on leadership – not control!

There are several critical distinctions between the role of leadership as a parent and the role of director. These distinctions are important, because they produce very different outcomes. 

In the moment of the daily rush of things, it appears that the director is absolutely essential. And it might even be reasonable to argue that very early on in your toddler’s life these instructions were helpful. 

But with the perspective of time, we begin to see that the director’s role seems to become more and more essential. In fact, as children age and we expect to see emerging independence, we see growing ‘dependence.’ While Mom or Dad ought to be working themselves out of the directing business, the true director is stuck! It seems that they have more and more work to do. 

This doesn’t seem to make any sense, as children should be taking on more responsibility, but they don’t. This points us to the problems that come with simply accepting the role of director. 

"Directing" promotes dependence – not independence

The director assumes that they must make it all happen in their home. The moment that there is a lack of progress in getting ready or completing an assignment or even getting through dinner, he or she takes over and starts instructing.

Here is where the problem emerges: the director’s role appears to be needed.

That’s right; when directing early on, it appears to produce results. The children actually seem to listen and progress is made. Things keep moving forward and life appears to be good.

But through the eyes of time, the director starts to lose power and influence. As children age, we notice that those who are "directed" the most seem to become more dependent on their parents, rather than more independent. 

The problem becomes evident when your 12-year-old has to be asked 10 times to brush their teeth. We also see competent children become more and more helpless; seeming to forget the most basic lessons they have learned. Many times, these ‘over-directed’ children appear absolutely helpless and unable to make a decision without mom or dad telling them what to do next. 

The director’s weaknesses show up early on and are more obvious with the more strong-willed or challenging child, who resists the director, and begins to create an escalating series of "stand-offs" where the director’s power is tested.

Bottom line: No independence is nurtured under the director’s watch.

Instead of a director, children need a leader

Good leaders display several qualities that separate them from poor leaders. First, they lead by example. They are excellent models who walk their talk. They don’t yell at others and expect others to remain calm. They don’t preach one message, yet do another. Leaders are good examples for their followers.

Second, leaders create a positive vision and can keep their focus there. Children need parents who have a vision of just how good the family can be. How much can they contribute to their community? How hard can they work on the soccer field? How much love is possible when you really commit your life to it? Good leaders bring a vision of possibility into the home and inspire their children to become better.

Third, leaders know how to hold their family accountable. Without accountability there is just all talk. Often, we see this mistake made where there’s lecture after lecture, and yet those systems are put in place to hold children accountable to doing their best. Parents who are good leaders for their family find ways to create simple systems to hold their children accountable to being their best. 

Combined, these qualities transform a child. Consider leading, as a way of parenting – rather than directing.

Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. For more information visit




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