This Christmas season we find many families struggling financially and the burden to make things "merry and bright" is palpable in all parts of our nation.  Buying gifts this year is a low priority for many who are faced with the current economic challenges.  Yes, these are lean financial times, but I believe there is no better time to encourage a child to become entrepreneurial than during the holidays. 

As the creator of a company dedicated to supporting entrepreneurism for kids, I'm a proponent of promoting an early education in true capitalism.  This rough economic time can be a teaching moment and the lessons learned in the process can be some of the most valuable, intangible gifts we can provide to our children that will benefit them throughout life.  With American families spending 52% less on Christmas gifts due to financial issues, this season is a prime opportunity for our kids to step up and earn some money for themselves—becoming less dependent on the home budget and gratified in contributing to the family in ways they never knew they could.  

Many of you may recall the lemonade stands we set us as children to earn  a few dollars - earning money was secondary to the fun we had learning how to manage our own store!   If a child can create lemonade from lemons- then most certainly a child can squeeze opportunity from the economic lemon! 

The benefit of earning one's own spending money comes in a gift package that is not visibly obvious.   Remember the Christmas Day when your toddler quickly discarded the shiny new toy in lieu of playing in the empty cardboard box?  Right now is the perfect opportunity to help your teen rediscover the joy of playing in the empty box again and experience the discovery of self-reliance, responsibility, the pride of contributing to the family, and the joy of earning one's own money.   

It's important to let kids know they are worthy of learning how to earn their own pocket change - even at a tender age.  "Owning" a job and doing it well creates true self esteem; the kind of self-pride that is hard to manufacture for our young ones.  This intangible gift earned when we give our kids the freedom to experience the feelings of "doing a job well done"—it doesn't come by being coddled or coerced.  

Making sure that a child's comfort is our first priority sometimes backfires in the area of teaching our kids that they can indeed accomplish on their own - they are more talented than we give them credit.  Our desire for our offspring to not "suffer" in the same way we did as youngsters has given rise to a segment of our youth that is incapable of independent accomplishments because parents are too focused on doing it for them. 

This is a prime time to offer support and suggestions to our youth to get them busy learning how to earn money, and more importantly, contributing to the family finances by being more financially independent. 

During this holiday season there are many ways to earn some money.  Combined with the extra holiday activities and time off school, your child can take advantage of the variety of possibilities.   Encourage your child to offer their services to neighbors, friends, and family members by telephone, email, passing out flyers, or even texting!  

Seasonal ideas include hanging or removing Christmas lights and décor, gift wrapping, decorating trees, baking cookies, prepping the garden for winter, planting spring bulbs,  pulling in and cleaning the lawn furniture, and addressing and stamping Christmas cards.  If your teen is handy with the computer, scanning old photos can be a lucrative business, as well as organizing digital photos and creating digital photo albums and books.   Babysitting, dog walking, and lawn mowing may be standard small business ideas, but there is still a demand for convenience by those who can afford it.   As friends and neighbors travel, offering pet care and house sitting can be such a relief for pet owners and worried homeowners.  I know a boy that gets paid to flush toilets and run faucets in an otherwise unoccupied condo complex!  

Thinking inside that box may generate ideas of using your child's hobby or talent to start a small business.  Play an instrument beautifully?  Hire out to entertain at parties.  Love to knit, sew, or craft?  Offer classes for youngsters during this busy time.  Do you have an athlete in the family?  Arrange for some organized games and skill building with the neighborhood kids.  Many parents would find the activities refreshing for their kids during the two-week Christmas break.

Instilling in your child a sense of pride in a job well done is one of the best gifts that will launch them into the next golden age.   As a mother of four, I know that the smile radiating from the face of one of my own children caused by a personal achievement cannot compare to any other radiance.  Their pride in success and independence is unmatchable in life skills and can only be achieved by allowing them to succeed or fail under their own weight.   Earning those dollars contributes to their can-do attitude that will serve them well in life. 

Parents, we are the number one cheerleaders for our offspring and we can offer the support, encouragement, and love by allowing our kids the privilege to succeed and experience for themselves that which we learned long ago.  Remember, running a small business is a new concept for a child and your offering the advice and support needed for success in their first experience with an entrepreneurial venture is imperative.  Help them create a safe advertising campaign, offer them a possible client list from your address book, educate them about expectations when working for someone (being timely, working diligently, adhering to safety rules, cleaning up, and finishing a job even when it is hard, etc.), and cheer them on--remembering your first day of work. 

‘Tis the season for making lemonade and exploring empty cardboard boxes. So grab the reindeer by the antlers and let your child ride the wave of boundless opportunities this Christmas.  Delight with them as they discover what it feels like to be rewarded for their own efforts, share their joy as they walk a few inches taller; and relish in the victory of their newfound skills in managing their own small business.  The "learning while earning" and the pride that accompany an entrepreneurial venture are most undoubtedly gifts that will keep on giving--gifts of greater value than anything found under the tree this year.

December 24, 2009

Linda Raasch is the founder and chief of Bizkidz.com.