I own an international PR firm and my brother is an artist, writer and naturalist. We both became entrepreneurs in our early 20s. People often ask if our parents did anything special in raising us. When I had my daughter in 2007, the question took on new meaning—I wanted to know if parents could influence their child’s entrepreneurial IQ.
To help answer the question, I contacted Richard Rende, Ph.D., who studies child development, and together we identified a number of areas where parents can have a great impact.
Why does it matter? In our fast-changing world, kids need a whole new set of skills to succeed. Helping children gain entrepreneurial traits will give them a solid foundation for defining, pursuing and achieving their own success.
Here are seven entrepreneurial traits well worth cultivating in your child:
1. Openness to Experience
Babies and children are born to explore. They are open and curious about the world around them. Free form “playful learning” is a proven way to advance academic readiness and lifelong curiosity. Let your kids follow their instincts and discover—and reinforce that with enthusiasm and wonder. Adults who are open to experiences have their “radar screens” on all the time. They see opportunities where others don’t and welcome challenges, hallmarks of success in the workplace and in life.
2. An Innovator’s Perspective
Innovation isn’t just for people who will create new technologies or businesses. Kids growing up today will need to be perpetual innovators, devising new solutions and approaches to problems. Permit kids to test out their ideas when playing or doing schoolwork (without critique). Coming up with their own solutions helps develop and reinforce creativity and critical thinking skills. And make sure to cultivate an environment where failure is tolerated. Innovators embrace experimentation and know that you must fail in order to succeed.
If there’s one trait associated with entrepreneurs, it’s optimism. Successful entrepreneurs believe they can change things for the better through their own efforts. Being optimistic confers real life, career and health advantages. To encourage optimism, frame the day in a positive way, model optimistic thinking and problem solving and cultivate gratitude. And remember that optimism is contagious. If Mom and Dad’s outlook on life is positive, it will rub off on the kids.
Whether they’re children or adults, successful people get their hands dirty, sometimes literally. To help kids develop a strong work ethic, they need to learn the intrinsic rewards of a job well done. Parents should resist the urge to smooth their child’s path or do for them what they can do for themselves. One time-tested way to build industriousness is by giving kids chores. Researchers have found that participating in chores early in life was strongly associated with personal and academic success 20 years later.
5. Opportunity Seeking
Children need to feel comfortable seeking out opportunities—academic, social, personal and physical—without fear of negative consequences. When children feel secure and supported, they develop the self-confidence they need to trust their judgment and instincts and are free to embrace opportunity when they see it.
Likeability in childhood translates to success in adulthood. It’s important to note that likeability is not the same as popularity. Likeability is about getting along well with the people around you. Parents play a big role in helping kids develop social proficiency. They can help them negotiate conflicts without becoming disagreeable, model how to collaborate with others and boost their communication skills.
There is one tendency above all others that entrepreneurs endorse as key to achievement: serving others. In any endeavor, if people don’t contribute something that is wanted or needed, they can’t succeed. Kids today can have extraordinary “résumés,” but having a sense of entitlement and a lack of empathy will ultimately hinder them. Talk about your emotions and help your child understand that the feelings of others matter. Compassion and empathy will change their world and their lives for the better.
Not every child will grow up to be an entrepreneur but every child can benefit from having entrepreneurial skills to help navigate our complex world. As traditional life and career paths disappear, children will have to be able to adapt and learn at every stage of life. Like entrepreneurs, they must make their way in the world with no roadmap to guide them. Parents can help set them on a path to use their talents and abilities to create success for themselves and others.