You can ask your little one “What do you want to be when you grow up?” a thousand times and hear a thousand different answers. That’s because kids only know as much about the world as you teach them or as they learn through school and media. It might be endlessly cute to hear your toddler mumble “teacher” or “doctor,” but they won’t know what a career truly is until you tell them.
Too many people feel dissatisfied with their choice of study in college: Only about 50 percent of grads believe their bachelor’s degree was worthwhile. That’s because going into college, most teens still misunderstand what the working world is like, and they choose their majors based on movies, television and books rather than personal experiences and solid advice.
The better and sooner your child understands what the workforce is and how it functions, the better equipped they will be at choosing a rewarding and fulfilling career for themselves. Here’s how to talk to your child about working, so they grow up to become exactly what suits them.
Explain Why You Go to Work
Long before your child can give a coherent answer to the “What do you what to be” question, they will notice your habit of leaving for long periods during the work week. Likely, they will whine when you are preparing to leave and ask why you have to go. This is an excellent opportunity for you to teach your child why you have a job and continue to go, even when they want you to stay home.
You should start by talking about what you do, but in terms that your child will understand. For example, you shouldn’t flippantly drop the fact that you are a senior data analyst for a Fortune 500 company; instead, you should carefully explain that you work with numbers to help other people make good decisions to keep the business going. You should list some of your daily tasks, so your child can correctly imagine what you are doing when you are away, and you should offer some of the benefits of your job, like the pay and the exciting challenge. This will start to get your child excited about the prospect of their own career.
Explain Why Other People Go to Work
During this conversation or later, you should explain that your job isn’t the only one in the world. You can ease into this by describing the duties of your coworkers in different departments, and then you might talk about what your child’s friends’ parents do. This will show your child that there are more options than what they see on TV.
Not everyone does the same thing at work, and not everyone does it for the same reasons, so you should also talk about the reasons driving most people’s careers. Pay is the most obvious; everyone needs money to buy shelter, food and other necessities. However, people also crave respect, even prestige, and others are driven by the need to create and be connected.
During this discussion, you might also mention that not everyone gets to do what they want to do, perhaps because they can’t afford the training or there are other potentially unjust barriers to qualification. You might be able to pivot this into conversations about charity and volunteerism, which could help form your child’s worldview about work.
Be Honest and Open About Work
Work isn’t always fun. Sometimes, work is hard and unrewarding, but you still have to do it. Sometimes work feels unfair, biased toward employers or those in power, and it is. When your child is a little older — in tweendom and approaching adolescence — you should provide the truth about work. You can explain what laws and regulations affect employees and employers across the country and within your state. You should also read up on employment ethics, which have a significant effect on how employees are treated. These are complex issues, but they will always affect how people train for, look for and maintain employment, so it is important that your child understands them before they enter the workforce. It might even convince them to enroll in an employment law course later in their studies to change how you and other workers experience employment.
Take Your Child to Work
As soon as they are young enough to understand their surroundings and until they pack up and leave for college, you should be in the habit of taking your child to work with you. On Take Your Child to Work Day — or on some other somewhat casual, low-pressure day of the year — you should give your kid a break from school and drag them along to your workplace. Even just being in a working environment, your child will gain a more realistic perspective on work, so they can make more informed decisions as they are preparing for their own career.
Work shouldn’t be a fantastical concept to kids. Because your child will be spending much of their childhood preparing for the workforce — through years upon years of education — it is best that they know truthfully what the workforce is like before they graduate college. By sitting down with them and discussing your experiences and others’, you can teach them about what it means to work and help them understand what they will be when they grow up.