Tomorrow’s business leaders and startup founders will be today’s young kids whose parents have raised them with an entrepreneurial spirit — a skill that is increasingly important as young people flood the startup world and the freelance economy grows.
As a parent, you inspire entrepreneurship by fostering the emotional skills your child will need, such as comfort with risk, effective problem solving, and a positive attitude toward failure.
“It’s all about shaping the child’s behavior,” says Dr. Andrea Vazzana, clinical assistant professor of child psychiatry at New York University Langone’s Child Study Center. “Social emotional skills are important and the earlier you can help a child with them, the better.”
Here are five parenting tips to help you foster entrepreneurial qualities in your kids.
1. Model effective problem solving. To prepare kids to find business ideas in everyday life, bolster their problem solving skills while they’re young. When problems come up in your child’s life, brainstorm solutions together. Help them identify the problem, think of all the possible solutions, weigh the pros and cons, and choose the best option.
“The more parents can break down what’s needed within that problem solving task, really verbalize it, and talk it out with the child, the better off the child will be,” Vazanna says.
2. Help kids learn from failure. As a parent, you influence your child’s willingness to try, fail, learn, and try again — an essential skill for entrepreneurs. To do this, frame criticism as a learning opportunity by helping your child practice the skill or brainstorm what they could do differently next time.
When you offer suggestions for improvement, bookend them with specific praise on either side. “This is called a feedback sandwich,” Vazanna says. “The child doesn’t feel so harshly criticized; they can take away a positive message.”
3. Let kids make decisions. An entrepreneur’s confident decisions are rooted in early independence. When kids are toddlers, you might give them the choice of spinach or broccoli with dinner, or let them choose their outfits. “You’re exposing them to what it feels like to make a decision, and helping them feel good for being able to do that,” Vazanna says.
When kids are young, limit choices to a few options. “Kids can get overwhelmed if they have too many choices,” Vazanna says. As they get older, loosen the reins and trust them with bigger decisions.
4. Foster a sense of mastery. Entrepreneurs take huge risks, but being comfortable with uncertainty doesn’t happen overnight. Kids need the freedom to test their boundaries and master fears while they’re young.
When your child faces a risky situation, help at first, then transition them toward independence. “Tasks should be progressively more difficult,” Vazanna says. “This gives the child a sense of mastery.” By setting them up to succeed, you empower them to feel confident taking risks.
5. Teach constructive ways to challenge the status quo. Kids are often taught to follow the rules blindly, a habit that inhibits entrepreneurship. Instead, teach kids to challenge norms constructively by articulating their rationale. Ask, what do they think needs to change, and why? What do they propose instead?
You need to lead by example. “The ways parents talk to each other and to children models that behavior,” Vazanna says. Your behavior helps kids understand how to question norms diplomatically and when to just follow the rules.