As parents, we all want to raise confident, fearless, and resilient children. But where do we start?
For my book, Raising an Entrepreneur, I spoke to 70 parents who have raised very successful people. When I asked them what skills they teach their children at a young age, everyone agreed: curiosity.
Curiosity goes beyond just wanting to know something. It’s about fixing something. It’s about asking questions: how does it work? Does it have to be like this? could i do better
How to teach your kids to be more curious
Surprisingly, curiosity is a rare skill these days. Career experts are even calling it an “emerging skill,” and researchers at Harvard Business School called it a highly sought-after trait in the digital age.
Curiosity allows one to think deeper and more critically without being too quick to judge, and to arrive at more creative solutions.
Here’s how the parents I interviewed piqued their kids’ curiosity:
1. They encouraged their children to fix things.
At the age of 24, Robert Stephens founded Geek Squad, a technology repair company which he later sold for $3 million.
Robert’s curiosity about how things work began when he was a little boy, unscrewing all the doorknobs in his parents’ house. “They weren’t mad, they just said to put them back,” he told me.
He soon became known as the “fix it” guy in the family. “I took apart a radio to study it. People said, ‘Robert can fix anything.’ It gave me a sense of pride and self-worth.”
Fixing things can help children develop decision-making and problem-solving skills. If you have something around the house that needs fixing, like a blown lightbulb or a leaky faucet, use this as a teaching opportunity for your kids.
It’s also okay to admit if you’re not sure how to fix something. Knowing where to find accurate information is just as important as knowing it upfront.
2. They instilled the confidence to tackle big, real problems.
Jessica Jackley is co-founder of Kiva, a peer-to-peer lending platform that has provided more than $1 billion in microfinance lending to small businesses.
“My mother built my confidence every day. She told me I could do anything I wanted, no matter how unattainable and ambitious it seemed. And we talked about different leadership opportunities in very specific ways,” she said.
They also had a rule of never getting bored. “We always learned things together, played games, explored or had little adventures. This spirit prepared me to be an entrepreneur – to be proactive and see opportunities in the world.”
3. They asked the difficult questions.
Ellen Gustafson co-founded FEED Projects in 2007, which sells bags and other items to raise money for school meals. Today she is a thought leader for social innovation.
Ellen’s mother, Maura, attributes much of her daughter’s success to one parenting rule: “Resist the temptation to make decisions for your children.”
Instead of always telling Ellen what to do, Maura encouraged her to be independent and think for herself. “The best way to do that is to ask them questions,” she said.
Suppose your child went outside during a thunderstorm. You could ask her:
“You have put yourself in a very risky situation. How did you analyze them?” “What made you decide to do what you did?” “Is there anything you learned from that experience that would make you assess the risk differently next time?”
Smart questions show that you respect your child’s judgment, which boosts their confidence. It also teaches them to manage risk and choose between different options with different trade-offs and different outcomes.
Margot Machol Bisnow is a writer, mother and parenting expert. She has served in government for 20 years, including positions as FTC Commissioner and Chief of Staff to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and is the author of Raising an Entrepreneur: How to Help Your Children Achieve Their Dreams. Follow her on Instagram @margotbisnow.
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