The Brilliance of Babes – 6 Leadership and Life Lessons from Three 3 Year Olds

One of the best gifts of being a parent is that I am learning (or unlearning) so much from the clarity of my children. They continuously remind me of the wisdom, authenticity, and joy with which we enter this world. Unfortunately, as life goes on we get hurt and learn so many wrong lessons. Life’s experiences leave many of us anxious of what might happen rather than excited about the possibilities. We are taught to protect ourselves rather than open ourselves up. We learn to take for granted the beauty that is all around us. This week three 3 year old kids gifted me with tremendous wisdom, bliss, and clarity in 2 minutes.

As I was dropping off my daughters at daycare, our provider asked me to watch the older kids while she changed my youngest who had pooped in the car on the way over (perfect timing!). The two other kids (1 boy, 1 girl, both 3 as well) both wanted my oldest to sit next to them since she had just arrived, so she decided she’d sit in the middle. The girl told her how much she liked her headband, so she asked if she wanted one. They quickly discussed the two headbands she had and who would get which one. Then she told the boy that she thought he should start by coloring the head of the person in the coloring book. He simply responded that he prefers to color the arms first. She then complimented on how good his coloring had gotten, “You’re not scribbling at all!” He responded, “I know. I’m a big boy.” I stood in the doorway with tears filling my eyes. Here is why I was so moved and what I learned in those 2 minutes.

1.       Don’t be afraid to be excited.

The other two kids were completely unbridled with their enthusiasm to see her. They didn’t keep it in to be cool. They didn’t dial it back for fear that she might reject them. They let loose with it.

2.       Don’t let your ego get in the way.

All three of these kids were more focused on their experiences with the others than they were about how they were being seen, viewed, measured, or judged. Their lack of self-consciousness clearly is an asset, not a detriment. It allowed them to be authentic rather than perform to some external standard. She didn’t take both of their desire to sit next to her and use it to her advantage. She found a way to make both of them happy, again with no ego involved.

3.       Don’t be afraid to do it your own way.

After being told that he should color a different way, the boy considered it and then shared that he prefers to do it another way. He didn’t feel pushed, peer pressured, or shamed into doing something different. He also didn’t get defensive about his way of doing things. He didn’t seem to think that there was a right way or wrong way that everyone should follow, but he was confident in how he liked to do it.

4.       Share.

When complimented about how awesome her headbands were, her first instinct was to give them away. That’s genius. She didn’t keep them to herself to keep the compliments coming. She didn’t ration them out to gain influence or power over the other kids. She didn’t keep them out of fear that she wouldn’t get them back. She just gave them away.

5.       Be proud of your growth.

The boy was genuinely proud of how his coloring had improved and fully celebrated that progress. He didn’t feel pressure to portray himself as someone who had always been good at coloring. He had a growth mindset. He also didn’t reject the compliment in an effort to be modest. He took the compliment and celebrated his progress. He wasn’t afraid that others would judge his celebration (cocky, bragging, arrogant, prideful) or use his celebration to put him down (“it’s really not that good”).

6.       Celebrate others accomplishments.

She was free to recognize the boys coloring progress. She wasn’t concerned about what it would say about her coloring talents. She wasn’t afraid that it would place him in some social status above her. She wasn’t afraid that he would use the compliment against her or let it go to his head. She just noticed that he was good at something and communicated that.

I’m deeply grateful for the lessons these three children taught me. I’m off to try really hard to act like a three year old.

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