Adapt: A plan for a leader


My son is in Grade 7 now and I am looking back on the last year without leadership, which has nearly come to its end.  Last year around this time, my child very excitedly boarded the bus to the leadership camp. Everyone was dearly aware of the fact that the leaders of the school would be selected on this camp. With starry eyes (like mine) he believed that he was meant to be part of this team. At least he was the boy that was asked by the choir conductor to motivate all the boys in the grade to audition for the choir. Not an easy task, but nearly all the boys went to sing!


A few weeks after the camp the leaders were announced. My son (a tough boy) got in the car with tears in his eyes. I did not even need to ask what was wrong. He was heartbroken.


With the valedictory ceremony a few weeks later, he was rewarded as Victor Ludorum.  I was so proud! But the evening when he got into bed, his words were: “Mommy, you know, I would rather be a leader than be the Victor….”


Suddenly my proud heart was flooded with tears and I realized how deeply my child was hurt. That evening my husband and I had a long discussion and decided that the only way by which we were going to keep our son positive was to empower him for the road ahead. I realize that our plan would not suit everyone, but I have to share it with parents walking the same path.


Our game plan was as follows:

We pinned an imaginary “head boy” badge onto his shirt and told him that according to us, he is head boy in our eyes. As an ex-teacher I have witnessed many times how strong learners who were not selected as leaders, could break the school. We had to be careful and explain what his duties as head boy would have to be. He would have to be proud of his school, be obedient (to teachers and other leaders), diligent, prompt, neat …… This is a long list. I don’t think that I need to expand. But the most important fact that he had to remember, was that he was the advertisement of our family to the world outside.


As head boy he had to regard everyone as important. The new little grade 1 who was lonely during break also needed some attention, just like his friends. He had to greet the workers friendly at school. He had to treat the teachers with respect. We wanted to teach him one of the most important lessons in life: to be humble.


We did explain that one has to end off at school in the same way that you have started. As a result we decided that we would attend all school functions as far as possible, we would still be involved in all sport activities and offer our help where ever we could. Yes, it was difficult to sell popcorn at the school dance amongst all the mothers of the leaders, but we as parents and our son persevered and stuck it through.


We had conversations with him and did not wish the problem away. We knew that he was facing a difficult year. But we made him understand that all people possess some leadership qualities. I mentioned my domestic worker as example. She is not literate, but needs to execute all her daily tasks. She has to neaten the house and sometimes make decisions if I wasn’t around. She has to give instructions to the gardener and ensure that he follows them. When there was a crisis at home, she had to conduct conversations with the electrician, or whoever.  He needed to understand that the “title” LEADER does not make you a better person than the other. He should also not feel inferior because he was not awarded the “title”. We highlighted his strong leadership qualities, but also explained which ones he did not have and could work on.


We also asked him to be honest at all times. If something happened that he was upset about, he should tell us, irrespective of how big or small it was. He may not bottle up his emotions. Every afternoon when I fetched him from school, I asked what happened at school and although boys don’t talk easily, there are ways to drag it from them. He simply had to tell!!


Initially he struggled. Sometimes he would get home discouraged and tell that his friends chased him from the corridors. We were afraid that he would lose his circle of friends and we paid attention to retaining a healthy relationship with his friends. He also had to learn to get along with the less “cool” kids, which he now was part of. He made new friends which otherwise might not have happened and also learnt that everyone is “cool” in his or her own way.


At the end of my son’s year of not being a leader, I observe my imaginary head boy. I see how he greets the school worker every morning and sometimes even have a little chat. From his side, I do not experience any negative thoughts regarding his school. No, he is just as excited to go to school as that very first day. I am grateful that I can say that my child has not attended a single detention class as yet. (When mentioning this sentence one should keep in mind that he does not fall under the elite group. Thus, if he forgets his book at home, he gets a demerit, even if his homework is done. Without any negativity – the leaders do not necessarily get a demerit.). When something alike occurs, one reminds him that everything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger for life, in other words we rather empower him than pity him.


Yesterday for the first time ever, my son went practicing with me. The bio-kinetic said that he needs not do all the exercises as his muscles would hurt the following day. His words: “I don’t quit that easily. One finishes what you have started.” One of the women who was close enough to hear, remarked; “What a remarkable boy…”. My heart wanted to flood with tears. …I was proud, proud of my imaginary head boy!!


My story has a happy ending. I know that my son has survived a severe storm in his childhood. But I also know that he is a leader, even though he never wore the badge. I know that he is stronger than a year ago.


Good luck to all the parents who have to face this. Stand by your child and be there for him, no matter what.

This article was first published in the Autumn edition 2016 of My Child and I.



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