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Raising a Business Savvy Kid: Advice for Parents

Your child could be the next big innovator – the Henry Ford or Steve Jobs of his or her generation. Here are seven tips for cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit in your kid.

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What's the difference between a child who becomes an innovator and the one who doesn't? If you ask entrepreneurs in the greater Detroit area, that answer comes down one thing: risk.

Children who learn to take risks and accept that sometimes their ideas turn out – and sometimes they fail miserably – are the ones that go on to become innovators. It's a lesson that seems to reverberate throughout southeast Michigan thanks to the legacy of Henry Ford. As biographers are quick to point out, Henry Ford didn't invent the automobile, nor did he succeed at business right away (his first two shuttered). But what he did have was the creativity and drive to keep going, eventually developing a new way of manufacturing cars that your kids read about in their textbooks.

That spirit of innovation is still alive and well in Detroit. As area entrepreneurs look for ways to build up our communities – and our local economy – they see inspiring children to become innovators as key. Here are their insights on what it takes to raise a biz kid.

Encourage kids to set goals

"I think one of the most important qualities that children can develop is to be goal driven," says Wendy Fichter, director of small business development at the Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce, in talking about helping kids become entrepreneurs. "We've all heard that old adage, 'If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.'"

Guide your children through setting goals by starting simply. Talk to them about coming up with something they want to learn or do that they can't right now. Then have them write down their goal, along with the steps and timeline to achieve that goal. For example, say your 5 year-old really wants to learn how to ride a bicycle – that can be her goal. She can write down, "Ride a bike" or she could even draw a picture of it. Discuss what she'll need to do to accomplish her goal. Maybe she needs to practice riding for 15 minutes each day for three weeks. She can post her goal somewhere where she'll see it often, like on the door to the garage or the refrigerator. Breaking down a goal into manageable parts that your child understands and can track will help her feel like she's progressing. Don't forget to celebrate her achievement once she meets her goal – and then to have her set a new one.

Let kids do it their way

As a parent, it can be tempting to rush in and explain to a child how to do things, "the right way," whether it's loading the dishwasher, cleaning up a room, or working out algebra problems. Yet this approach can discourage kids from figuring out how to do things on their own. "You need to give (children) the opportunity to do something without hovering," says Fichter, a mother of three grown children. "They need to know that they have free reign and that you don't mind how they do it as long as they get it done."

Giving your child tasks around your house might be one place to start. First, you can show your child how you would do something like raking the leaves in the yard or making dinner (depending on your child's age and interests) and then let him come up with his own approach. My 10- and 12-year-olds are tasked with cleaning the kitchen floors once a week. They've come up with a system that's shaved the time it takes them to finish down to under 10 minutes. One, on hands and knees, sprays the cleaning solution while the other follows – a small rag on each foot to dry each spot. (They've even added in music, so they can scrub to the beat.)

Allow kids to reach their own conclusions

Part of innovation involves creativity by seeing that problems can have multiple solutions. "One thing I try to do – and I'm not perfect at it – is to help my kids reach their own conclusions," says Josh Linkner, a tech entrepreneur, best-selling author and the CEO and managing partner of Detroit Venture Partners. With his two children – Noah, 16, and Chloe, 14 – he tries to ask open-ended questions to fuel conversation.

Exploring ideas together helps kids imagine various possibilities. "They come to view the world as something fluid and ever-changing," says Linkner, who believes it's vital for kids to develop critical thinking skills to succeed in today's world. Gone are the days where kids could just memorize facts as a way to learn. "Today things are changing rapidly in everything from technology to geopolitical systems. It's much more important to teach children to think. ... Facts and figures are going to change; it's teaching them how to think that's important."

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