What is initiative? Why is it an important skill for entrepreneurs? Initiative is seeing a problem and taking action on your own. If you are going to meet the needs of your customers you HAVE to be able to take initiative. You can’t wait for someone else to do it.
So, yeah, this all makes sense, but how do you TEACH it? Well, you start early…
In one website I read they suggested that you need to start teaching it when kids are between four and seven years old. This makes a lot of sense to me because at four they are past the conflicting time of transitioning from a baby into a child (see my previous post here about this) and after age seven they start transitioning out of the “core” phase of learning and start having many more interests. “Core phase”, in Thomas Jefferson Education philosophy, is the stage where the focus of education is “right and wrong” and “good and bad”. Teaching initiative fits right in with this.
When your kids are young, it is really easy to just do everything for them. You know what I mean… it takes ten times longer to have them help you clean the living room than to just do it yourself! But don’t go that route. It isn’t helping your kids, it is hurting them. Take the time when they are young to teach them what needs to be done and how to do it. Teaching initiative is a type of discipline that must be taught. A child needs to be shown how to see things that need to be done. Between the ages of 4 and 7 kids need to be shown what to do… for example, you can’t just say, “Go clean your room.” You have to SHOW them what that means.
I think initiative is the outcome of discipline. A child who is not disciplined has a harder time being self-disciplined. Without being self-disciplined they will find it much harder to be proactive and take initiative.
When I first started thinking about homeschooling we had a five year old, two three-year-olds, and a newborn. I knew that homeschooling was a fantastic education method. I did tons of research. I found the method and curriculum that I wanted. My biggest concern wasn’t socialization or any of the other stuff… it was if I would be able to handle it. I yelled a lot back then. I thought that was the only way to make myself heard. Well, I took 2 years to make the leap and when I did, I had a plan. I had the boys help me with everything they could. They had chores. I bought plastic cups and plates so they could do the dishes safely. I showed them how to clean the bathroom. I also figured out the key to discipline… follow through. This allowed me to stop yelling.
Consistent follow through is really important. If kids know what the consequences are of their actions, good and bad, there doesn’t have to be yelling… or at least as much! One thing I did at the beginning to help focus on the good (which is always the best way to go) and to provide good consequences for the boys, thus encouraging initiative, was I bought a couple rolls of nickels and labeled a plastic cup for each boy. During the day I would look for them doing things right. Every time I saw something, I made a big deal and put a nickel in their cup. After they had enough money in their cup, I’d take them to get something at the store. I kept it up for quite awhile and then stopped the nickels. The boys didn’t really need the money. The positive reinforcement was enough.
As my kids got older, they naturally grew into taking more and more initiative. It also helped that I am able to reward it when I see it. For example, I have one son that is very into video games. We have serious limitations in place on gaming time but when he shows initiative and gets his work done early, I reward him with some extra game time.
You probably wonder what kind of entrepreneurs my kids are. Well, my oldest has written and self published a book that is available on Amazon, had his own snack shop, tutored, and has done yard work to earn money. My twins teach music lessons, perform for private parties, and have also done yard work. My fourth son took over his oldest brother’s snack business when he went to college, and has also made money with recycling and making and selling cookie dough. My youngest is still in that “core phase” and I’m working with him to teach him more about it, but having his big brothers around is making it much easier this time around!