Tour Guides


tropical-rainforest-jungleImagine that you’re in a foreign country with a big jungle and lots of vicious animals. Costa Rica or Sri Lanka. You are \unfamiliar with the terrain, the flora and fauna, the weather. If left here alone, you’d have no clue how to survive.

Luckily, you were well aware of this, so before even coming to the country, you hired a tour guide to safely guide you through the jungle. A competent young man whose reviews said he had all the skills you needed: there isn’t a particular destination you are going, but you need someone there who knows it intimately so that you can turn any way and they can let you know the risks and benefits of that direction. They need to keep you safe from outside dangers without being sticks-in-the-mud.

“It does seem like fun to go that direction, but there is a family of tigers there.”

“We can turn right here and we’ll be climbing uphill for several hours. We have not rested enough for that. Let’s set up camp and try tomorrow, or we can go left and it will be flat. We will be able to take this path easily.”

“I’m not sure.”

You’ve chosen a good tour guide who is confident in his knowledge and abilities. This was a good job researching on your part.

Now imagine you hadn’t done your research and you just spun the wheel and picked a tour guide.

You start walking through the jungle and he looks nervous. He looks back at you, checking for slight clues of confirmation in each turn he makes. You ask if it’s okay to go to the right and he shrugs. He asks if it looks good to you. It starts getting dark and he is anxious. While he has tried to hide his lack of knowledge and confidence, it has been noticeable all along and as night sets, you are in danger. Neither of you knows what is happening and your anxiety is increasing. You get upset at him and he starts screaming at you to calm down, to just let him figure this out. He says if you’d be quiet than he’d know the way—but he wouldn’t. And somehow,e he’s blaming you.

Luckily, eventually, you find your way out.

This is what it feels like to be a child with parents who are not confident in their leadership. Children are in a very large, unknown place, and their life and wellness depends on you. They simply don’t know what is dangerous, or normal, or an acceptable risk. They implicitly expect you to know the ropes. That is how they know they will get through the jungle safely.

lost child

If you are constantly nervous and checking with them for reassurance that you’re going the right way, they will lack confidence in you and in their own wellness; later on, this could manifest into an inability to direct themselves.

Our first guide was very confident, and left room for us to explore the jungle as long as it was safe. He didn’t have a predetermined path, but he could give us the information we needed to make a decision. Serious threats weren’t phrased on maybes.

This is what our children need. Don’t make things questions that aren’t. Don’t look to them for which direction to go. You are the adult, the leader, the sherpa in the relationship, and it is your job to know where you’re going.

But you haven’t got it all figured out?

Yes, you have. You are becoming qualified in the act of doing it.

Your knowledge and capacities far exceed that of a 2 year old, 5 year old, or 10 year old. You don’t have to know everything about a subject to teach someone, you just have to know more than them.

You will keep your kids calmer by being a confident leader. If you panic and feel lost, they will, too. Share that part of yourself when they are older and have found their own path, not while you’re leading them down one you’ve walked before.

Journal questions:

What is my strongest leadership skill? How do I use it with my children?

What is my weakest leadership skill? How can I develop it?


Pick one thing about the culture of your family that you don’t like. Think of incentives to increase or decrease the behavior that create and implement them.

Example: My family doesn’t eat well enough. This week, I will throw out all prepackaged food so that it isn’t easily available for me and my children.

Example: My family spends too much time on screens. This week, I will remove the TV from the living room and create a special space for tablets to go in outside of X hours.

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