6 Ways to Encourage a Budding Little Entrepreneur
Parenting is really hard. Parenting a would-be entrepreneur is even harder. These young business-owners-in-the-making follow their own rules, often struggle in school, and approach tasks with an obsessive, almost addictive, quality.
Unfortunately, traditional education all but snuffs out the creativity and risk taking that are essential for starting businesses. Instead of fostering entrepreneurial traits in kids, most schools want to manage them at best, and suppress them at worst.
So if you want to groom your child to be an entrepreneur, it's up to you. Here are some ideas to consider:
Give them rules based on values, not behaviors.
The Dalai Lama says, "Learn and obey the rules very well, so you will know how to break them properly."
With entrepreneurial-minded kids--often the ones who love breaking rules--it may be tempting to wave the white flag and surrender to their incessant badgering and rebellion.
Don't do it.
Good rules are guideposts that help kids internalize core values. They point kids toward empathy, self-regulation, and dependability. Rules remind them that they're not the center of the universe and that their actions affect how they see themselves, as well as how others interact with them.
This is a great insight to have long before you become a CEO.
And unlike a school's ubiquitous rules designed for classroom management, your rules can be unique to your family and your values.
My 11-year-old is obsessed with Minecraft. So much that he wakes up in the middle of the night, sneaks my computer into his room, and plays until the wee hours of the morning. Now he wants to make videos of himself gaming and post to YouTube. I'm reassured that this behavior is actually quite normal for entrepreneurial-minded children.
Despite my concerns about his lack of sleep and sneaking around, I was recently told (by a computer programmer) that it takes a ton of courage to create content and put it on the Web. I should reward it, not punish it--and he's right.
So, my husband and I are trying to figure out ways he can safely live within one of our value-based rules to live a healthy life (which includes getting sleep), but also express the creativity that is so much a part of who he is.
This balance between enforcing rules and giving creative freedom requires some trial and error and fine-tuning--the likes of which are not possible in most schools. To empower your child to be the entrepreneur he or she can be, it's up to you to find the sweet spot for your specific child.
Focus on the As.
Too often parents get bent out of shape over the Ds and Fs that make their way to a child's report card.
Rather than spend precious energy moving the needle a tiny bit on the bad grades, spend your time focusing on their strengths--their good grades--where they are clearly succeeding.
Help them figure out what activities they love doing and help them find ways to do more of them.
And help them figure out what activities drain or bore them. Then make peace with them not doing the stuff they hate, or at the very least eking by with it.
Unless it is a mental health crisis, don't medicate your child. Ritalin might help them be good students, but is being a good student really the goal? Most entrepreneurs will tell you they hated school and didn't do well academically.
Yes, children with attentional issues can be obnoxious and difficult to parent, but they are often the ones later in life who are creative geniuses and innovative masterminds. Don't snuff that out with medication.
Help them write their personal mission statement.
One activity I like to do with people, especially young people who are usually much more open to the process, involves writing a personal mission statement.
The method I use involves video clips and movie characters. We discuss which ones they're drawn to and which ones they're repelled by.
These inclinations usually reveal something deeper and if parents can get into a "listening state of mind," their children will reveal what they most desire in life.
This is powerful information because passion and intrinsic motivation are the rocket fuel for successful, meaningful work. If kids can discover the one thing in life they can't NOT do, they will succeed. Period.
Encourage them to do hard things.
Any entrepreneur will tell you that he or she lives and dies by their courage. They wake up every day afraid of something, and decide to show up anyway.
One of the biggest things you can do to groom an entrepreneur is to encourage them to do hard things--like really hard things--and make a conscious choice not to rescue them when they fail. This will be especially hard for helicopter parents who think they're job is to hover and protect.
It may not work. I might look stupid. I might lose interest. I can't do it. I'm not that smart.
These are all mental gremlins they'll have to face someday. Why not now while they have your guidance to help them? Why not help them learn early in life that failure, discomfort, confusion, and effort will not kill them?
So what if your child pushes boundaries? Maybe underneath all that rule-breaking, apathy, and OCD is a diamond-in-the-rough--a technological genius, a science wonder-child.
I'll check back in 10 years. I bet someone reading this is parenting one of them right now.
Dr. SHELLEY PREVOST is a mentor and early-stage investor at Lamp Post Group, where she hacks into the psychological and emotional side of starting and running a business. She is a co-founding partner of the JumpFund, an angel fund investing in female-led startups with high-growth potential. Prevost also speaks and consults with companies on finding purpose, humanizing work, and growing leaders from the inside out. She blogs about her work at the Glad Lab.
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