With the start of another school year, anxious parents resume worrying about how they can help their kids survive socially and thrive academically. With four kids spanning 1st grade to junior year, I have definitely spent a fair share of time trying to figure out the best way to raise my children to live happy, well-balanced and productive lives.
As a long-time entrepreneur, I’d love for my kids to discover that business ownership is their calling. But, it’s far more important to me that each child follows his or her passion and finds a career or purpose that’s personally fulfilling. And, I want to make sure that my husband and I are sowing the right seeds today for future success and happiness in whatever career they choose.
Throughout the school year, there are opportunities to cultivate soft skills and habits that will last a lifetime. Here are six skills that can be helpful in school today, as well as transfer to their chosen career in years (or decades) to come:
1. Teach and show them that it’s okay to fail
A high-pressure environment like school can place too much emphasis on success, perfection and A’s. Any kind of disappointment or perceived failure can be devastating for kids. This can be particularly true for girls, as evidence shows that girls are often socialized to be perfect. As parents, it’s up to us to help our children understand that failure is not such a bad thing. It’s a natural part of life.
Experiencing failure helps children develop coping skills and resolve – skills that are certainly needed in the business world. When kids experience defeat, they can build resilience and be more willing to put themselves out there and attempt something challenging.
As a parent, resist the need to rescue your child. Jumping in to help all the time sends the message that you don’t trust your child. Encourage your kids to try new things and take risks, academically and extracurricularly, regardless of the outcome. I love the words from Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani “be brave, not perfect.”
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2. Grow their communications skills
Verbal and written communication is the key to building relationships and business success. Encouraging your kids to flex their communication muscles will pay dividends in their future careers. With the prevalence of electronic devices today, it’s all the more important to make sure young people can carry on a face-to-face conversation – maintaining eye contact, asking questions and listening.
For younger kids, story chains are a great activity while driving in the car or at the dinner table…begin the story and have everyone take turns adding to the story as the plot takes twist and turns with each contribution. For older kids, you can help develop their presentation skills, by encouraging them to speak in public whenever possible – and even have them pitch you ideas.
3. Help them seek their passion
One of my all time favorite quotes comes from Mark Twain: “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” I always tell clients that it’s never too late for them to follow their passion. And it’s never too early for my children as well.
I try to lead by example, always communicating how fortunate I am that my career is my passion. Launching businesses, particularly the second time around, has been less about chasing money and more about helping others get their own dreams off the ground. I don’t think it’s possible that all kids will know their passion at the end of high school – but I want my children to understand the importance of passion and doing what you love.
4. Encourage them to try everything
When we talk about passion, we often picturing an ultra-passionate artist or businessperson who is wholly consumed by a single passion to the exclusion of everything else. I have a daughter who loves to dance and a son who loves sports… and they would both probably be very happy spending every waking hour on those activities. But, school is the time to explore, dabble, and develop a well-balanced set of skills and interests. So, my husband and I stress the importance of reading and writing to our son who would rather focus on engineering.
5. Help them learn to say No
We want our kids to stand firm and make their dreams happen. But in a bid to please others (parents, teachers, coaches, friends…), kids lose their unique identities, convictions and strength. It took me decades of people pleasing to realize how much overcommitting was hurting my career, family, and health. It’s never too early to help your kids understand that’s it’s okay to say no. Instead of basing their decisions on the desires of others, kids should be encouraged to make decisions based on their own wants, needs, and experiences. This crucial development step builds self-confidence and will help them set their own priorities and path in the real world.
6. Take care of yourself
Emotions are contagious. We all are vulnerable to “catching” someone else’s emotions and this is certainly true with parents and children. Simply put, if you are stressed, your kids will probably be impacted. Some research has found that parental stress is related to behavioral and emotional problems, even lower math scores, in their children.
In short, take care of yourself, so you can take care of your family. Make time for your own activities, hobbies, exercise, relaxation techniques…and don’t feel guilty about it. People thrive when they are happy and less stressed, and this is true for adults, parents and kids!
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