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Turn kids on to biz

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On a cold, dark winter night, around Christmas, my doorbell rang. Somewhat annoyed, I opened the door to find two boys dressed in white shirts, with big entrepreneurial smiles on their faces. They greeted me with a cheery, "Good evening, sir."

One of them stretched out his hand, inviting a handshake. In less than a minute, they explained that they were selling family videos that their father had helped to write and produce, and they asked me to buy two of them.

While some of my neighbors felt sorry for these 8- and 10-year-old brothers, I thought how fortunate they were that their father was teaching them the thrill that comes from earning money that helps to support the family financially. How great it would be if more parents would help prepare their children for the many entrepreneurial opportunities that await them.

A friend of mine, the head of a university preschool, tells me that there are a few things parents can do to help teach their children to become entrepreneurs. Here are 10.

1. Foster creativity. Provide building materials and art supplies, then give them space and time to build things, draw and play, taking responsibility for their actions.

2. Allow children to experience and learn from the consequences of their actions. If they break something, they need to repair it or pay for it. Parents should provide a home where children are loved even when they make mistakes and then offered support in correcting wrongs.

3. Encourage problem solving. Allow children to negotiate with words for their own turn on the computer or with toys. By using language, not fists, they can position themselves where they want to be. Let them learn the give-and-take of relationships.

4. Offer support emotionally as well as financially to budding entrepreneurial projects. These include such undertakings as paper routes, lemonade stands, baby sitting and yard work as well as selling greeting cards, fund-raising efforts for clubs and schools or whatever it might be.

5. Encourage risk-taking. Teach kids to try new things and explore alternatives to old situations. Let them learn the rough and tumble of play and how to get themselves up again when they stumble.

6. Appreciate their work and energy. Young entrepreneurs tend to be noisy, messy and full of pep. They sometimes require little sleep, and their minds are working all the time. Step back and look at your youngster and appreciate how very imaginative he or she is.

7. Compliment their successes. Be liberal with praise and applause. Compliments from the right person at the right time can change a life, no matter what the age.

8. Teach goal-setting. Study after study shows peak performers set and achieve goals. As you teach children to set, write and attain goals, they will establish a pattern of achievement.

9. Encourage social interaction with a variety of people. For young children, encourage dramatic play. This promotes role taking, practicing verbal skills and problem solving with others.

10. Listen to their ideas and encourage them to try them out. Let them fail, but also make sure that they have some successes. Discuss their ideas as well as your own with them.

You don't have to send them out on a cold winter night going door-to-door to harness their entrepreneurial spirit. But if you do, they will learn things at an early age that will serve them well the rest of their lives.

Stephen W. Gibson is associated with the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship. He can be reached via e-mail at cfe@byu.edu.