4 Ways to Teach Your Kids About Work (Without Adding More to Your Plate)

by Sabina Nawaz*

As a leader, you probably juggle many things at work and at home. You’re not alone. Most executives I coach struggle with balancing parenting and work duties. They worry that they aren’t spending enough time with their children, and they’d like to help their children learn from their experience and avoid mistakes they’ve made.

What if you could maximize your time by making progress on work challenges while spending time with your children and helping them learn important skills in the process? Given my own challenges with balancing multiple priorities, I’ve learned a few ways to make the most of my time with both work and family, and I’ve shared these tips with my clients, many of whom have adopted similar practices. And the tips don’t take any additional time. In fact, you can increase time with your children without losing work time or adding more to your already full plate. By doing things a bit differently, you benefit your task list, your children, and yourself.

Here are four ways you can spend time with your kids while getting work done and teaching them important lessons along the way.

Practice time management together. One of your primary jobs as an executive is to anticipate the future and set a course to achieve success. This often takes concentrated time, away from the demands of back-to-back meetings. Many executives I coach take two hours a week to create white space. But unless you plan well in advance, it’s hard to find two hours of contiguous time each week.

Starting when he was eight years old, my older son would sit down with me once a quarter and help me block out white-space time for the next quarter. We would also block out time for vacations, shows, and volunteering. Because we carve out this time together, it helps me maintain a stronger boundary for family time. By helping me, my son appreciates the variety of my job responsibilities, not just what he sees from videos of my keynote talks. He’s also learned how to plan ahead to create balance and dedicate time to think strategically, and he’s picked up some other time management tricks. As a result, he creates time blocks on his calendar to ensure he has enough time for large projects that can’t be done in one sitting. It has reduced the amount of last-minute drama in our household.

Teach leadership ideas through reading. Harry Truman once said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” I’m much better at reading lots of books than at remembering lots of information from those books. Therefore, as I read each book, I tag passages that I’d like to go back to later. My sons compile all the tagged sections into one document. They curate my notes because I pay them, but you can also involve your kids by creating a game or competition such as answering trivia questions from the books at the dinner table. After all, these aren’t books they’d willingly pick up. Not only does this save me time and help me retain what I’ve read, but it also teaches my children at an early age about leadership topics from expert authors. Yesterday our dinner table conversation included the benefits of having mirror neurons and showing empathy when we want to improve our influence skills. It was a direct outcome of the book one of my sons is currently working on.

Explore values through discussing real-life dilemmas. Last month I struggled with a situation at work in which, if I acted according to my values, I would risk losing a large percentage of my revenue. It would be easy to pretend with my children that everything was business as usual. However, it wasn’t easy on my sleep. As I struggled with what to do, my husband and I discussed the dilemma (while protecting confidential information) with our boys. We laid out the situation, which values it was violating, and the potential risks of upholding my values. It was a difficult choice, but I decided to act in favor of my values.

I’d forgotten about the event until my older son said to me the other day, “Mom, I want to have integrity in how I talk to my science fair partner.” Curious, I asked, “What does integrity mean to you?” and was surprised to hear him remind me, “Mom, you always say integrity is doing the right thing when nobody is looking.” Having an open discussion about a work struggle benefited my son in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

Help children learn to frame problems in multiple ways. A common way that my coaching clients struggle is when they make assumptions about their adversary’s motivations during an interpersonal conflict and choose destructive actions based on that one conclusion. For example, Raymond, a tech executive, was recently convinced that his peer Jay wanted to discredit him and take over his team. Raymond jumped to this conclusion because Jay had interrupted during his presentation about his new project in front of the CEO. Rather than assume the worst of Jay, I told Raymond, he should lean into his natural tendency for storytelling and create not one but three separate stories about what Jay’s motivations could be. Raymond’s alternative stories were that perhaps Jay was very excited by Raymond’s idea and wanted to add his own ideas to it, or that Jay was less aware of interpersonal interactions and was someone who tended to interrupt others as well. This allowed Raymond to confront his assumptions and examine other possibilities.

You can share this tactic with your children as a game my family calls Multiple Meanings. We take turns creating stories from observations of people and events on trips to and from school. For example, if we see a man walking rapidly on the sidewalk with tattooed arms and a sleeveless vest, we might make up a story that he’s late for work because his car broke down, so he’s walking fast to get help. Maybe he owns a tattoo parlor across the bridge and is a walking advertisement for his business. Or maybe he’s meeting someone in the park and is running late. Our children then use the skill when they’re upset about something at home or at school. This is especially helpful when my sons argue and come to me for mediation. To reduce the heat in the conflict, I ask: “What other meanings can you make about why your brother borrowed your Lego airplane?” The goal is to be able to calm themselves down and be more empathetic, so they approach someone else with curiosity instead of judgment.

We spend a lot of our waking hours working. We also invest a lot in educating our children on academic subjects, physical activities, and the arts. But we treat these two activities separately. By involving our children in our work activities, we can teach our children key skills from our own experience, while maintaining quality time both at work and at home.

*Sabina Nawaz is a global CEO coach, leadership keynote speaker, and writer working in over 26 countries. She advises C-level executives in Fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, non-profits, and academic organizations. Sabina has spoken at hundreds of seminars, events, and conferences including TEDx and has written for FastCompany.comInc.com, and Forbes.com, in addition to HBR.org. Follow her on Twitter.

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