Best way to educate a child who is a follower in large groups but independent in small groups.
September 30, 2009 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Need advice: what is the best way to educate a child who is a follower in large groups but an independent leader in small groups?


My five year old daughter is in public Kindergarten right now and the teacher tells me she is not independent and that she is a follower. She does not speak up and does not show confidence. At home, my child is talkative, independent, assertive, and a negotiater; the complete opposite of her school situation. Plus she is reading at a first grade level.

But I also see this independence outside of home, as long as it is a small group or only a few people. For example, she is a model/actress for a company, and can get up and do a monologue that she memorized in front of a small group. And one time I introduced her to a lady that she never met before (who was a choir instructor), and my daughter got up on the stage in front of this person and began belting out a song from the sound of music, using her arms and face to express the song and everything.

She used to go to Montessori school for preschool, where supposedly an independent child will thrive. The teacher there did tell me that my child was on the quiet side and seemed to be a follower. Now that we are in public school, it seems to be the same thing.

My question is, should I put her back in Montessor, in hopes that she will become independent? Should I keep her in public school, since those schools are more geared toward telling children how and what they are going to do and learn, or should I homeschool her and then put her in a lot of activities? I do homeschool her in the summer, so it's not like I don't know anything about that.

What I'm concerned about, is that a child who appears to be free and independent and assertive, is now changing her personality with every experience she has at public school. And eventually she will see herself as the quiet, unsure, follower in the group.

Any advice?

posted by lynnie-the-pooh to Education (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There is nothing wrong with being quiet and being a "follower."
posted by Ironmouth at 8:04 AM on September 30, 2009

Seconding Burnistan. Keep an eye on things but give her time to figure it all out.

She'll be fine.
posted by pearlybob at 8:06 AM on September 30, 2009

She sounds flexible and adaptive to her surroundings. I'd be more concerned with the teacher's concern. Not every kid can or should be a leader, and it's not necessarily a "better" way to be. So why is the teacher concerned?
posted by cocoagirl at 8:12 AM on September 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

Seems a bit young to brand a kid a "follower". I once heard of a study on group dynamics that found that true leaders, rather than being extroverted, tend to sit back in group situations, taking it in, and then chime in when they have assessed what's going on - and that others tend to recognize their thoughtful input as having key value. What you are calling "independent" may not be true independence. Nothing wrong with being observant and quiet.

Our daughter's that way... a brilliant student, and gets along well, has friends, and others often look to her for leadership.

I'd say don't try to make your kid into something she's not. Let her grow in her way. Help her learn to be assertive and confident in a way that's right for her.
posted by ecorrocio at 8:17 AM on September 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

For example, she is a model/actress for a company, and can get up and do a monologue that she memorized in front of a small group.

That is not an example of independence, that is an example of following. You told her to where to stand and what to say, and she does it. Or worse, a stranger tells it to her and she does it.

Just cool it a little, and let her find her way.

To reinforce independence, you have to accept the child's wishes when they refuse to do something that you want them to do. If she tells you that she doen't want to do another modelling gig, that is her asserting her independence. She may be doing it for all kinds of developmental reasons rather than for a rational one, but nonetheless that is independence. When you tell her, "No, you have to do it" that is how you train her to be a follower.

If you want her to be independent, accept the fact that it includes being independent from you, and only force her to do the mandatory bathing, eating, bedtime, school stuff. Everything else she should get to figure out on her own.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:18 AM on September 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

I am like your daughter. I seem very shy and introverted in large groups when in fact I'm just taking it all in and enjoying watching other people either take over or act the fool. In small groups, I'm not that way. I speak up, I join in; sometimes I lead, sometimes I don't. Your daughter is just more comfortable in smaller groups; there's absolutely nothing at all wrong or abnormal about that.

If you're concerned about her "not showing confidence," just keep teaching her that it's okay to be who she is. It's okay to sometimes be the quiet one and to sometimes be the loud one. Out of curiosity, how many kids are in her class? If it's a big one, the teacher may not be witnessing the times when your daughter stands up for herself or leads other kids to do stuff. In fact, it's very likely. No teacher can say with 100% accuracy what each student does at any given moment of the day, unless there are only a handful of kids in the class.

One more thing: you CANNOT teach temperament. You just can't. She is who she is and all you can do is teach her your family's values and morals and hope she makes the right decisions. You can't make a shy child not shy.
posted by cooker girl at 8:29 AM on September 30, 2009

I was a quiet, nerdy, "follower" type kid throughout my childhood. Attending a small, friendly, feminist all-girls Catholic high school helped me to become more confident--I had the opportunity to participate in whatever extracurriculars I wanted (including speech team, which helped me a lot), made great friends, and got a fantastic education.

I think 5 is way too young to be worrying about whether or not you kid is a "leader." If, by the time she's approaching high school, her quietness or shyness are evident hindrances to her education and socializing, then I'd recommending choosing a high school very carefully. Culture matters a lot, and I wouldn't blindly say that every small all-girls school is a good choice, but I know a lot of smart, confident women who were educated at high schools like mine.

That said, I agree with comments above to the effect that being a follower isn't a bad thing. I'm still a "follower"--I don't actively seek to be in charge--but I'm confident enough that if, in order to advance my career or some interest of mine, I needed to take a leadership role, I'd be all over it.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:41 AM on September 30, 2009

Agree with Meg_Murry regarding the all-girls high school (mine was not Catholic -- it was secular -- but also very small, friendly, and feminist). Also, I was *always* a social follower in grade school and was the quietest and least assertive my group of friends... I had the least life drama and a good sense of humor and I just went along with whatever the more aggressive girls I was friends with wanted to do. Since then I've found my inner assertive bitch and I've successfully taken up quite a few leadership positions at work and in community organizations... whereas many of my aggressive, more obviously "independent" high school friends have not.

I've always been both competitive and independent, but I've just found ways to navigate different groups of people based on the dynamics at the time. If your daughter finds it easier to be outgoing at home but quieter at school, I don't think there's a problem there. Plus, it's only been what, one month of kindergarten, with a totally new group of kids and new teachers who don't know her that well? Give her time.
posted by olinerd at 8:52 AM on September 30, 2009

It's possible your daughter is a bit 'over educated'--if you're homeschooling her over the summer, maybe she's already learned the things her teacher is teaching.

I was an avid self-learner with a mom who was always introducing exciting books and projects over the summer. I often kept quiet in class when I knew the answer because I got tired of being the know-it-all. It's a difficult balance between ensuring that your daughter isn't bored and avoiding alienating her from her classmates.
posted by brambory at 9:01 AM on September 30, 2009

Just starting public kindergarten, especially after spending time in a Montessori school? Normal, happy kid who seems well adjusted and otherwise fine in interactions with others? Seems to be generally adjusting well to school?

I don't know when your school year started, but around here the kids have been back a month... Unless you have a sense that your kid really is being unduly passive in interactions in school, or being treated badly by the other kids, I would be careful about taking a vague report that she is " not independent and that she is a follower" very seriously after a very short time.

If you know the teacher well and trust their judgement or have heard from other parents you know well and trust that this teacher is particularly perceptive in such matters, this might raise a mental flag that there is a real concern. In any other circumstance I would be very wary of taking such a comment too seriously. Some teachers are all too quick to pigeonhole kids after a brief period -- it saves mental effort on their part and they are busy people with lots of kids to worry about.

And even if in some sense the comment is valid, so what? Personalities differ and learning styles differ: as long as things are going well and the kid is learning and is seemingly well adjusted you should expect them to behave in their own fashion and not expect them to necessarily conform to some mental model imposed by a teacher who doesn't know them very well.

On of the hardest things to learn as a parent is when to intervene and when to let the child find its own way. They really do have to learn to navigate the world and personal interactions for themselves, you can't do it for them, so unless there is good evidence that there is some problem your best bet is to talk to your child and keep an eye on how things are going, but let them be. Thinking about pulling your child out of school because of this sort of report, without something very strong behind it, is over reaction.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:43 AM on September 30, 2009

What sticks out to me is that your daughter is 5. She's already doing talent shows? I almost feel like expectations are unreasonable. I know I will thrive in smaller groups because there are less people to over talk me and overwhelm me, I would think most people would feel like this unless they are extremely domineering in their personality. What saddens me the most is that such harsh judgments are being handed out to 5 year olds. What you should worry about is; is she happy? is she sleeping and eating well? Does she understand the work? Does she have a friend or two? She doesn't always have to be the belle of the ball.

Let her know it is ok for her to be her. She doesn't have to always perform, succeed or be the best, she just has to try to be herself. I would sit down and talk to the teacher; and keep this in mind, the education required or rather the lack of education required to be a kindergarten teacher is appalling, this person may not even have any background in child psychology so don't take their word for it.

My background is in part education/child psychology and I often see people so concerned that their child fit into a socially constructed institution that somewhere along the way they stop encouraging their child to be who they are for fear of them being an outcast. You obviously love your child and care a great deal. Build her confidence through love and acceptance and I think she will flourish. Not everyone is meant to be a leader, thank God.
posted by gypseefire at 1:36 PM on September 30, 2009

Someone said to me that their kids' early education instructor described their son as a follower, simply because he doesn't jump right into crowd situations. He hangs back, checks things out, figures out what's going on, and, when he's really comofrtable, takes an active role.

I said to the parent that I thought perhaps those WERE the skills of leaders and that perhaps these were the very qualities that, when he's 15, would stop him from jumping into a gang rape of a drunken girl or from trying the new drug from the unknown source. That perhaps it's possible to be a quiet leader, simply by checking things out, and that one can have independent thought without jumping into things. What is a leader, anyway?
posted by acoutu at 1:40 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think it would be useful to hide from your daughter that her teacher said this about her.

It seems to me like there is nothing wrong with what she is doing, or with being a "follower."

And is she a follower? Who knows what is going on inside her head? Perhaps she is thinking about other things or being critical of the situation or... anything. You do not know your daughter through and through, nor does the teacher.
posted by adamfaux at 12:16 PM on October 1, 2009

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