I've been in business for years, starting as a 10-year-old child with a newspaper route. Each day, I would deliver the papers. Each week, I collected money from my customers and paid my bill to the newspaper company. This experience taught me about working hard, setting goals, understanding the value of money, but it also sparked the entrepreneurial spirit in me.
The entrepreneurial spirit embodies qualities like being unafraid to try something new, creative problem solving, internal motivation, imagination, and persistence. My son, like most young children, is brimming with it.
We once had a conversation in which he said, “I love the clouds. I want to go sit on one.” I explained that clouds were water, so sitting on a cloud wasn’t much of an option. I wondered what he might do with that information. He had a dream, and I had told him it wasn’t realistic. I watched as he stared up into the sky, his mind working. Then, he smiled and said, “If I can’t sit in a cloud, I will swim in it.” Imagination, persistence, and creative problem-solving at work.
My parents had the right idea when they insisted on a paper route. A child is never too young to get started in the world of entrepreneurship. That’s why, today, I’d like to share five simple things I did in my own home that you can do in yours.
1. Foster Problem-Solving
Imagine trying to run a business without the ability to solve problems. An issue crosses your desk that is out of the ordinary, and you simply put your head down in your arms, exclaiming, “That’s it. There are no answers to this one. I guess I’ll close up shop.” Providing your child with problem solving skills will help them see that there is always a way to find a solution.
When my daughter was younger, and now with my son, I taught them what I call the entrepreneur’s version of the scientific method. It goes like this:
Identify the problem
Come up with some potential solutions
Look at the pros and cons of each solution
Make a decision based on what you know
Review the decision after the experience
So, when my son came to me, concerned that the bigger boys on his practice hockey group weren’t letting him near the puck, I didn’t just tell him what to do. Instead, we went over the problem solving skills. I repeated back to him his problem, saying, “So, the problem is that the bigger boys aren’t letting you near the puck?” When he agreed, I said, “Hmm…what are some things you could do about that?” And then I let him brainstorm without interruptions. He came up with ideas ranging from telling the coach to breaking their hockey equipment to putting in more practice time.
After each idea, he would tell me the pros and cons, even without me prompting. Telling his coach would be tattle-taling. Breaking their equipment was not how he should behave. Putting in more practice time would take work, but if he got better, they’d have to let him play more. He decided to practice more.
Weeks later, after a good game, I asked him about the boys and his decision to practice more. He said, “They still hog the puck but since I’m better at the game than I used to be, I know what to do about it. They can’t keep it to themselves anymore.” And that was that.
Don’t forget to share your own experiences with your kids, especially those that deal with work. Talk about issues that come up, the obstacles you face, and potential solutions you’re considering. Tell them about the solutions you choose and why. This is another great opportunity to help your child stretch their problem-solving muscles.
2. Teach Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking goes right along with problem solving. It is the part of problem solving that allows you to evaluate information, be open-minded, and find unique solutions. When it comes to your child, the point is to help them understand that just because something has always been done a certain way, does not mean that it has to be done that way forever.
I like to help my daughter with critical thinking by asking about her view on a topic. For instance, should teenagers have to wait to be 18 to drive a car? She thinks they should drive at 16, but rather than asking her to convince me, I ask her to take the other side of the argument. She still believes teens should drive at 16, but she came up with many reasons why others might see the situation differently. That’s critical thinking.
If your child isn’t old enough to create points for an argument on a topic on their own, another thing you can do is ask ‘why’ five times.
Why do you think that 16 years is the right age to drive a car?
Why do you think it hasn’t been moved to 18 years yet?
Why do you think parents have a tough time with their kids driving at 16?
Why do you think there are so many accidents with individuals between 16 & 18 years old?
Why do some countries have their legal driving age at 18?
In this scenario, a child could achieve critical thinking through guided conversation. After understanding the issue, they would be able to go through the problem solving steps and come up with reasons for and against to formulate a proper thought through perspective.
3. Let Them Be Curious
Another key skill needed by entrepreneurs is curiosity. In our family, we do many things to help our children be curious, such as:
Traveling to various countries and cultures
Explaining how things work and how things work together
Reading books with curious characters. My son and I read a book called “If I Built a Car.” The hero dreams up how we would build an amazing new car with cool kid’s things inside
Rewriting stories to give them different endings or additional characters
Asking “what-if” and other open-ended questions to get them thinking
4. Start Working On Small Business Early
One of the biggest predictors of business success later in life is the age you started your first business as a child. That’s why we helped my daughter start a lemonade stand. The first year, we bought her the supplies, and she kept all the money. During the second year, she paid us back for the supplies. In the third year, we charged her interest on the money used to pay for the supplies up front. Not only did we fan the entrepreneurial flame, she also learned sales techniques, customer support, financial savviness such as profit and loss, and the value of hard work.
Lemonade stand or newspaper route not their thing? Let your child loose and discover what interests them. Then, use those problem-solving skills to figure out how to turn those interests into a money-making venture.
5. It’s Okay to Fail
Finally, help your child understand that it is normal to try and fail. The point is to learn something and try again. There will always be roadblocks in life, but these roadblocks can be overcome. As your child accepts failure as part of the process, they become resilient. They will be able to pick themselves back up and move forward.
The hardest thing to do is to let them fail. However, when they stumble, they learn the skills they need to be successful for the next time. It is in fact a more memorable lesson than if you just gave them the answer or saved them from failure.
As parents, we have the responsibility to help our children succeed. We also however need to give them the tools so that they can take them onward into their adolescent and adult lives. Lessons with guidance and encouragement will foster a willingness to try and a confidence to fail. In our household I have found following these five suggestions helps to foster a child’s entrepreneurial spirit.