One of the questions that an adult almost always asks a child is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And depending on the age of the child, the answer can vary from ‘a shark’, ‘a unicorn’ or ‘a dragon warrior’ to ‘an astronaut’, ‘a teacher’ or a lawyer. In our childhood, each of us has dreamt of growing up and pursuing our passions as a career. Not all of us are lucky enough to have done so. Many aspirational artists or musicians are in corporate jobs as the hard realities of paying bills takes precedence. As parents, how do we guide our child towards the right career for them? Should we burst their bubble of childhood innocence and insist that they pursue a career that guarantees them money? Or should we encourage them to follow their passions and let the money sort itself out?
There is a fine balance that needs to be maintained between the two approaches and these few simple tips will help you through these tricky conversations.
Start talking to them early
Ask kids about their interests. Observe which activities or after school classes they seem to be naturally inclined towards. Children usually gravitate towards certain activities–either because their friends are in the same group, the teacher is a fun teacher or they find that they are naturally skilled in that activity. Ask them about their choice of activity and what they like about it. Encourage them to try different activities to gauge what sparks their interests.
Older children can take aptitude tests to discover their strengths. While you should not base your child’s career solely on an aptitude test, it does help identify their strengths and gives you a starting point. If your child’s strengths are not in line with her career of choice, let her not get disheartened. Discuss ways in which she can apply her strengths to her field of choice.
Keep it varied
Career conversations start early because children are curious about what Mama and Papa do all day. As they get older, you need to elaborate beyond ‘Papa /Mama goes to office.’ Young children tend to idolise their parents. Be aware and ensure that all occupations are given a level playing field. If both parents are lawyers, chances are that their child is brought up surrounded by conversations around law and lawyer friends. Avoid treating your child as an extension of you. Mix it up a bit. Talk about other people in the family or your social circle who are doing different things. Expose them to the varied career options available today.
Be aware of your biases
While talking to them about career options, be conscious of your biases. Remember that the world has changed and will continue to do so. There are many careers today that were unheard of 20 years ago. So, keep an open mind. If your child shows an interest in a career in video gaming, don’t shoot it down immediately. Resist the urge to discourage a career that your child is interested in just because you can’t relate to it. Keep the conversation going and find out more.
Ask the right questions
When talking about career options with your child, ask them detailed questions about why they would like to pursue a particular career. A child who wants to be an astronaut may like the idea of going up in space while another child with a similar ambition may want to build his own rocket to go up to space. Each child views the role of an astronaut differently. By asking the right questions, understand what aspects of the career choice appeals to your child. They may be surprised to learn that the same aspects can be found across different fields.
Give them real exposure
Provide opportunities for your child to gain a better understanding of what his chosen career entails. Last summer, we encouraged our 11-year-old son to intern for a few days at a bakery as he wants to be a pastry chef when he grows up. He quickly realised that there is a huge difference between decorating cupcakes at home and the monotonous task of spending a few hours scraping cream from 500 Oreo cookies. While it was not meant to discourage him from being a chef, it was meant to show him that all careers require hard work. And the glamour of ‘Masterchef Australia’ is preceded by years of effort.
Find a mentor for your child. If your child shows strong interest in a career path, having a positive and encouraging role model can help guide his career aspirations.
Identify, practice and hone skills needed for their chosen career. Whether your child wants to be a chef, writer or a software programmer, they must work at it. Introduce them to different techniques and let them produce and create in their spare time. This will allow them to improve their skills and realise if they truly enjoy it.
Teach them life skills that are relevant across careers. Time management, balancing a budget, conversational skills, organisational skills and presentation skills are equally important whether you are an artist, photographer or a banker. Success in one’s chosen profession is largely a combination of immense hard work and the right attitude coupled with a bit of natural talent.
Be positive and encouraging. Some children know instinctively what they would like to do and are able to follow through accordingly. Others take a long time to figure out what they would like. Our role as parents is to support and guide our children through this process. Ultimately, it’s their choice and they will eventually carve their own path.