Future Matters: Helping Kids with Career Choices at Every Age
All parents worry that their children will lack the resources, drive, or the knowledge/skills/abilities they need to someday have a successful and fulfilling career. It’s why we do just about everything we do for our children.
But, it’s encouraging to know that a great deal of what they need for their future is already within us to share: positive conversation with them.
All parents also share the hope for something better for our children than what we do for a living. Parents who have big careers often hope their children will have more time to enjoy other things, and parents who have to really struggle to make ends meet hope for more money so their children don’t have to work quite so hard as they did.
So, where’s the middle ground?
The commonality is that all parents want happiness and peace for their children. We can help them create this by supporting their interests, no matter what they are.
To support their interests, though, you have to first know what those interests are, and the only way to know is to have open conversations with your children at all ages.
Remember, our #1 job is to serve as guides in the discovery of what will make this tiny new human happy one day.
It’s a lot of trial and error, but the best way to get there is together.
Here are some age appropriate ideas for good conversations with your children about their future.
- always keep it light and fun
- listen more than you talk
- respect each others’ differences
- answer questions honestly but with respect for their age, and
- always, always put love first.
Record your own career story through time.
Think about how you’ve thought about work over your lifetime. Ask yourself questions like these, and make a recording or a video of your answers to share with your kids:
- What was your first career role-playing game? (For example: farmer, nurse, teacher, veterinarian, artist).
- Name a significant school experience you had that made you think about a career around something you’re really great at. Example: winning the spelling competition, writing an essay you were proud of, a science experiment that taught you something amazing).
- Name a significant family event such as moving that changed the way you thought about your future career.
- Talk about the first time you worked and received a payment for it.
- Someone whose job or life fascinated you & why.
- What was your first full-time job, and why did you choose it?
- Name someone who inspired you to want a certain career.
- What made you decide on the career you have now?
This is a really great way to keep to the rule of listening more than you talk. When your children hear your story over audio or video, they can share their thoughts and ask questions at the end. Try to answer only what they specifically ask. If they want more information, they’ll ask.
You kids may be inspired to talk about their own timelines. Let them. Let it be an open conversation.
Acknowledge and support whatever dreams your teen has about their future. Work hard not to put a monetary value on it, but instead support the fact that they’re curious and excited.
People are successful when they’re supported. (And remember when playing video games or interacting on social media didn’t pay bills for people? They definitely do now. In other words, we never know what’s coming in the future of work.)
Remember, your job is to guide a new human into a life that gives them peace and balance. If their dreams are different from your own for them, that’s okay. Everyone is different, and it’s up to us to understand them and give them what they need to arrive into adulthood ready.
In addition to entertainment, movies teach kids about work. Choose movies that present different occupations. After the movies are over, talk about how work happened and why in the movie. Talk about things like:
- Did the movie make you think differently about having a career and what that looks like?
- Did it cast certain occupations in a positive light and others in a negative light?
- Was there any activity in the movie that made you say 'I want to do that!'?
- Observe character traits and discuss which you see as positive and negative. What did you identify with and what did you feel distanced from?
From the discussion, you might both decide on five character traits that are most important to each of you. Consider how they might relate to your and your child's career aspirations.
Helping Them Be Helpful
Involve your child in planning large events, such as family holidays or gatherings. Offer them genuine choices and make sure that their views are fully considered. Their confidence will grow as they develop new interests and skills that will one day help them manage their own career and families.
Primary School Activities
Every parent feels more at ease and confident with different-aged children, and that holds true even if they’re your own. But PLAY is something most humans have in common: we all remember our favorite playtime activity when we were kids.
Play is how we learn what we love to do, and it’s how we learn what we would like our lives to be. Playing with your children, and talking all the while, sets up trust as well as teaching opportunities.
Build a Lego community and talk about what occupations do what, how and where. Everyone loves building with Legos, so build whatever you dream about having, being, or doing with your children, and let them share their stories about what they’re building. Don’t forget to laugh out loud while you’re at it.
Here are some specific occupation-related structures you can build with your kids:
- office towers
- movie theatres
- train stations
- child care centers
- veterinarian clinics
- cars & trucks
Visit a museum, park, zoo, sport center, etc. and talk about what people are doing that make it work well. Discuss what knowledge and skills people need to grow things, care for animals, create a work of art, coach a sports team, etc. This can happen just about anywhere you go. Be curious and explore.
During a long drive or walk together, play the alphabet game to help your child understand occupations. Take turns calling out a job that begins with each letter of the alphabet, and give three skills or personal attributes a person would need in order to do well at this job. For example:
A for accountant, who would need to be:
- good at math
- able to solve problems
- able to think logically.
B for butcher, who would need to be:
- polite and helpful
- good at using sharp knives
- careful and clean.
Preschoolers explore their futures almost by default without any input from adults. They love to play pretend, read (better yet, be read TO), and ask questions—all of which involve what they dream of. Being a part of it is an honor, and they love to have their parents come along in their journey. So, be a joiner and play! Here are some ideas for play that builds trust, good talk, and fun for all.
Children will dress up to play pretend for every role in their imaginations whether they want to play those roles in the future or not. It’s like trying on clothes to see if they fit or not. It’s all about curiosity and exploration—which should always be encouraged by parents who want their children to remain curious and full of a love of exploration and discovery (which is the hallmark of a happy, peaceful life).
Provide your kids with old clothes, shoes, jewelry, hats, and props—or pick them up from relatives, friends, or from a thrift store. Get a big cardboard box, and fill it with all kinds of goodies for them to dress up in. And don’t forget to dress up yourself. Nothing says bonding like wearing a funny hat for laughs.
Reading to your children serves more purposes than could ever be listed. The three biggest?
- bonding through closeness
- sparking imagination
- teaching your kids that YOU think it’s important to read (which inspires them to value it, too).
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you read, how well you read it, when, or how long—just that you read together. The main benefit of reading itself is empathy, and that’s another one of the main ingredients for a happy, peaceful life.
Books that involve occupations are everywhere in children’s literature (because kids are fascinated with it). Visit your library’s children’s section with your kids and let them choose books that spark their interests. While you’re reading and the story enters into the area of work, ask your children what they think of that. Talk about it.
Children learn a great deal about the world around them through their cartoons, videos, games, movies, and shows that teach them something interesting about what it means to be out there in the world.
Watching/playing with them, asking questions (especially if they’re purposefully silly without poking fun), and talking about what they’re learning is just as important as asking what they did in school that day. Media like this can be your child’s favorite thing, and you wouldn’t want to miss it.
Talking about likes and dislikes
Talking with your child is basic, but not many parents understand how much it builds your relationship with your child from day one. The moment they’re born, children recognize the voice of their parents and respond.
Asking them questions—getting them accustomed to the lilt in your voice when you ask a question—is the building block to developing the guide relationship between two human beings that your child will always need and want from you if you remain consistent in it.
Ask about what they like and don’t like—even before they have the language to answer your questions. Make it a habit to ask your child what they like the most about their day and what they liked the least everyday.
This builds strong bonds of communications that will allow them to come to you when they really need to talk. It also gives you ideas about how they feel about certain occupations so that you can help guide them toward or away from what they really are interested in.
Best Practice Approach
Avoid asking children what they want to be when they grow up directly.
Remember that growing up is hard enough without feeling that you have to think ahead to a career at 4 (or even 14). Childhood is a journey, and trusting that they’ll get where they want to go in time is hard, but it’s also one of the most supportive things you can do as their guide and loving parent.
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