How to Raise Entrepreneurial Kids

When our eight-year-old, Timmy, wants money for something special that we won’t buy for him, his common response is something like “I really need to start a business to make money.” He’s not saying he needs a job; he’s not suggesting we give him money; he’s explaining to us he wants to be an entrepreneur! He feels that way because he wants to make his own decisions and loves the idea of bringing his ideas to life. That mentality comes in large part from the way he is being raised and his life experiences to date. Timmy takes the lead from his parents and grandparents, all of whom are entrepreneurs - kids are the product of their environment. But even without those types of influences, there is still a lot that you can do to expose your kids to the entrepreneurial mindset.

My husband and I are entrepreneurs in both the philosophical sense and the practical sense. Philosophically, both of us had entrepreneurial mindsets before we even knew what that meant. My husband’s childhood memories include acting as the school distributor of Garbage Pail Kids at the age of 9; my parent’s favorite story about me involves me making handmade chocolates, wrapping them up as a kid, and going door to door selling them to raise money. It was an instinct from early on. Practically, we now each run businesses, and a lot of our conversations, with or without our three boys, revolve around business.  Despite each of us spending about ten years working for large companies, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we eventually became entrepreneurs. We were both exposed to the entrepreneurial passion when we were young, so by adulthood; it was so deep-seated, that it was a clear path for our career.

So, how do you do that?  Maybe entrepreneurship isn’t your thing.  Maybe you don’t know any entrepreneurs. So how do you raise entrepreneurial kids?  My answer: raising a kid to be an entrepreneur is teaching them to see the world differently. It’s teaching them to see the world as full of opportunity, a place where creativity can run rampant and as a code, not just to be cracked, but to be rewritten.  This is not merely solutions-focused thinking, but how to solve problems and be innovative to create solutions that we really need. It’s about teaching them to be confident, to be bold and to understand risks.

How can you teach your kids to be entrepreneurial? Here are some specific tips:

1. Travel with them

Travel with your kids, even when they are really young, and you don’t think they will remember it. Why? Because the sooner your kids realize that each country and culture has different ways of navigating the same need, or solving similar problems, the more creative they will be in their solutions. Being an entrepreneur requires opening your mind to new possibilities and adapting the best of different ideas to make something awesome. Being in one place, and experiencing one point of view, makes that harder.

2. Teach them about the stock market

Does studying big businesses sound contrary to the idea of fostering entrepreneurship? It’s not! Learning about stocks and bonds can even inspire someone to start their own business, and this can lead to conversations about why some businesses grow, and some do not. Talking about failed and successful products, evaluating companies - why some are winners and some are not, the economy, consumer demand, etc. trigger thinking and teach life skills entrepreneurs need. This can start young! Our five year old and eight years old watched Ray Dalio’s talk about how the economy works multiple times, and they found it riveting (no, seriously- they did!). They then went on to watch his TED Talk!

3. Talk shop in front of your kids

Many parents advise the opposite- keep your parenting hat on with your kids, and your business hat on in your office. Whether by choice or by need, that’s not how its worked for us. My husband and I find entrepreneurship interesting, and we often talk about our businesses and other businesses in front of our kids.  I am not saying dinner should revolve around business issues, but I also don’t think kids need to be shielded from the realities and complexities of business. Kids are like little sponges – they soak up everything we say. Let them ask questions and answer the questions, then ask if they understood the answers. I think these conversations teach kids the value of hard work: they know how hard their parents work and what the outcome is, and that it isn’t always easy.

4. Make it fun even if failure lurkes

Allow your kids the opportunity to explore their inner entrepreneur, and don’t let them be afraid to fail. Our kids have had varying ranges of ideas from creating a travel video series “For kids by kids: best kid destinations”; tried to sell wooden boats from Amed, Bali as a charity project; created duct tape wallets and done video tutorials; tried to have a stand at the local weekend market.  We’ve encouraged them to run with each one and always celebrated their successes and made them feel like it’s OK if the idea didn’t work – 9/10 entrepreneurs fail, successful entrepreneurs, learn to dust themselves off and keep trying.

5. Reward their thinking, the risk-taking, and innovation

Take time to discuss the “ventures” with your kids and don’t worry about the outcome. Discuss what was good, what they could do differently next time, what they enjoyed, what they didn’t and what you thought of how hard they worked!  The goal is to help them have fun, to enjoy the process and to learn!

Raising entrepreneurial kids is crucial to us as a family, not just because we hope that our children will keep open minds and be creative in their career choices, but also because it opens up a world of lifestyle possibilities that they may otherwise not have in traditional careers. Entrepreneurs often have the flexibility of location, of time and the ability to create their income on their terms. But of course, like any career, it’s not for everyone.  However, even if your kids don’t grow up to be entrepreneurs, teaching them about entrepreneurship teaches them about innovation and seeing the world differently, which is, in any context, an important skill to instill in your children.

About the author: Carrie McKeegan

Carrie is the co-founder and current CEO of Greenback Expat Tax Services. Greenback makes life better for Americans living abroad and aims to take away the anxiety and hassle of doing US taxes while living abroad.

Mother to three little boys, Carrie and her husband currently live in Bali, Indonesia. She is passionate about brand marketing and entrepreneurship, strong coffee and raising global citizens.

Photo: Markus Spiske