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How to Create Opportunities for Your Kids

by | Aug 30, 2022

Many times, kids think of work as a four-letter word. Parents can show their kids that work can create opportunities, though. Parents can do this by teaching, coaching, and mentoring (TCM) their children about work.

For kids, work routinely evokes strong feedback and emotion, often including statements like, “I don’t want to clean up my room!” Sometimes it isn’t as harsh and is more of a question, “Do I have to do the dishes?”

Regardless of the response, many kids see work as an imposition of their time and freedom to do what they want to do. They definitely do not see work as something to create opportunities to get what they want.

Let’s play that back again: We’ve conditioned our kids to see work as an imposition of their time. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can help them understand that work creates opportunities.  

Teaching Wants vs. Needs Can Create Opportunities

Kids want things. They are born wanting things. Their wants start with simple things like food, water, warmth, a hug, and a clean diaper. But it doesn’t take long for them to quickly lust after nearly everything in the toy aisle, the cool shoes everyone is wearing, the latest video game, their own cell phone, and much, much more! But is that always the end of their desires?

As parents, we want our kids to have the things they want. It’s part of our responsibility as a parent to provide for our kids. The key question is, “At what point should our kids be responsible for the things they want vs. the things they need?” This is one of the real challenges of parenthood—when do you stop buying what they want so that they are motivated to earn it themselves?

We’re not talking about their basic necessities, like a safe place to live, healthy food, or reasonable clothing. What we are talking about, however, are things they want, like the toy in the toy aisle or that special red sweater, popular shoes, a video game, and what they want in life.

Wants vs. needs is one of the most perplexing and challenging things for us to think about as a parent. Where do we draw the line between the needs and wants of our children? When we put our thoughts into what interests our kids, knowing where to draw that line becomes so much easier for us as parents. 

Create Opportunities with Interests

One of our grandchildren was homeschooled, started college at 15, and headed overseas to college at 17. This may sound unusual. While in one sense it is, the reality is the circumstances that lead to this was based on how his parents used TCM and engaged him in what interested him long before he headed overseas.

You see, this particular child learned a foreign language at a young age. By the time he was 15, he knew four if not five languages beyond English.

When I was young, I found math fun and viewed learning a foreign language as work. In this case, our grandson loved learning languages. His parents not only saw that but also created opportunities for him to learn more by helping him learn languages.

In one case, he learned a language from his ballet instructor. In another, he added a community school language class for kids his age. By the time he was ready to be on his own, he headed overseas to college, graduating in 3 years.

While he graduated with a business degree, he learned several more languages along the way. He now knows business, he knows people, and he knows how to communicate in multiple languages. A woman he met and then married after college was from another country.

She originally thought he was one of her countrymen because of how he spoke her language. Bottomline, he loves languages and got a college degree that enables him to earn a living and found a life partner.

What does this all have to do with work? It’s an example of how parents can teach, coach, and mentor their children when they understand their interests.

Along the way, our grandson and his siblings did chores around the house, they did their schoolwork, they got an education, and their parents worked to make sure that their children understood what they wanted, what things cost, and what they wanted their path forward to be.

Today, our grandson continues to live overseas in one country, has a farm in another country, has parents in yet another country and parents-in-law in a different country. He makes a good living on his own, all because he learned that work can create opportunities and is not a four-letter word.

Work Creates Opportunities to Get What We Want

My wife Elane, and I were on a rental car bus heading to the airport terminal, having just turned in a rental car. On the bus was a couple with a ton of Christmas presents for their grandkids. During the five-minute ride, Elane commented to the couple that they must have a lot of grandchildren.

Their response was, “No, we only have a few, but in the income level we’re at, our grandkids have to have certain things, or they will not be able to keep up with their friends.” Could that be some cloudy thinking on the grandparents’ part?

Fortunately for them, we arrived at our terminal, where we exited the bus, and the conversation ended. But for us, the conversation about the difference in thoughts was just beginning. For the next several months, we continued to discuss wants vs. needs from a child’s perspective and a parent’s.

In our role as parents, we must motivate our children to learn that work is not a four-letter word but rather about how many ways there are to create an opportunity to ultimately get what they want.

Now, let’s back up for a moment and think about what we talk about as work. Work in the form of physical labor certainly takes time away from doings we might want to do. There is no doubt that we work to make sure we have the necessities to live, but we also work so that we can buy the things we want to enjoy. A nice place to live, a cool car, trendy clothes, eating out, entertainment, taking a vacation, and so much more is often what we want and our kids learn to want.

The important part of the story here is to not get stuck in what you think is possible but rather engage your kids by talking to them and listening to what they want. That alone may surprise you. But what really surprises many parents is that when they focus on what their kids want, and make them earn it early in life, the entire conversation shifts from, “Do I have to clean my room” to “Wow, you mean once my room is clean I get to do that!” (with that being what they want to do because they earned it).    

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Rick Stephens

Rick Stephens is a co-founder of Raising Families. With 33 years of experience as a top-level executive at The Boeing Company and having raised four children of his own, he is able to support parents and grandparents by incorporating his knowledge of business, leadership, and complex systems into the family setting. In his “free time” Rick enjoys road biking, scuba diving, visiting his grandkids, and generally trying to figure out which time zone he’s in this week. Read full bio >>