Although humans are an independent-minded species (just ask any toddler), they have an interesting quirk: They love to follow others. They want someone to tell them what to do — at least part of the time, for part of life’s decisions. 

But there is one caveat: This “someone” must be of their own choosing. The independent side of the personality needs to freely choose the leader. Hence, we like democracies and other social structures that give us the opportunity to choose whom we will follow. We enjoy many informal opportunities to choose leaders as well: We choose our rabbi, our mentors, and other sources of influence or direction. Having made our choice, we willingly submit to the policies and directives of our leader. 

Potential Leader 

As a parent, you are a potential leader. Your child can “vote you in” or not, as he or she sees fit. If your child does vote you in, then he or she will look to you for guidance, trust your judgment, aim to please you, and try not to disappoint or frustrate you. From your point of view, you will see a cooperative youngster, one who “listens.” 

On the other hand, if your child doesn’t vote for you, he may very well turn his back on your commands and instructions. He will find himself another leader — his other parent perhaps, or an educator, or another influential adult, or maybe a peer, or possibly just himself. 

A child who chooses himself as leader follows his own directives, doing what he wants, when he wants, where he wants. Unfortunately, members of this latter group tend to function very poorly, sometimes ending up in prisons, submitting to authority by force, or in rehab centers, submitting to the cravings of their own body. Children without proper leadership are at great risk for living a life of pain and suffering. 

You as Your Child’s Leader 

It is in your child’s best interests to choose you as his leader (providing you are a healthy, functioning adult). When he does, you will be able to impart important lessons and values, passing on your wisdom and knowledge. You’ll be able to prepare your child for a successful life full of meaning and purpose and guide him toward correct thinking and behavior. And while the child’s free will, genetic makeup, and personal experiences will all play significant roles in his ultimate outcome, you will have had the best chance to play your own role — whatever role a parent can play. 

Parents don’t make their children, but when chosen as leaders, they have the ability to actively influence their child’s developmental trajectory. Since this is the only role available to you as a parent, it’s not something you want to give up. Therefore, you need to know how to launch your campaign. 

Vote for Me 

It’s very easy to get your child to vote for you. You simply have to make him like you. The more your child likes you, the more he wants to be just like you when he grows up. You have tremendous power of influence. (The less he likes you, the less parenting power you’ll have, since the less he likes you, the less he wants to be like you or accept what you have to impart.) 

If you want your child to vote for you as his leader, you need to be laughing with him on a regular basis. But your laugh must be the laugh of a protective, wise adult — not the silly laugh of a childish grown-up. Your child wants a leader, not a playmate. He wants boundaries built with love and respect for self and other. He wants guidance that grows out of positive feedback, gentle direction, encouragement, and support. He will vote for the parent whose eyes reflect consistent approval and true affection. 

It’s equally easy to ensure that your child will not vote for you. Simply make him dislike you. Criticize him frequently and harshly. Punish him, diminish him, neglect him, and ignore him. Endlessly interrogate him, judge him, and accuse him. Wear a frown and a scowl, never talk when you can yell. Just be consistently unpleasant and you can rest assured that his vote won’t be for you. 

So there you have it; the choice is yours. Win your child’s vote so that you can fully maximize your parenting potential — or lose the vote and the authority and influence that goes with it.