Talking With Kids About Careers

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By Jennifer Halter

From a young age, it’s not uncommon to hear a child say the phrase, “When I grow up, I want to be a…”
Ideas about future careers are often learned early on through seeing what family members do or wanting
to follow in the footsteps of their favorite television or movie characters. Even though they may change their minds hundreds of times, it’s never too early to provide kids with tools and experiences to help them make the best choices about what they want to do. Here are some ideas on how you can plant seeds to help your child start building their future career mindset.

Imaginary Play

Imaginary play is a great way to talk to your child about different careers and their roles and responsibilities. You can use dolls and other toys to act out different scenarios, such as playing school, where you could talk about all the things that a teacher does. Use baby dolls to pretend you are a nanny or a nurse and teach methods of care that people in these careers would provide. Use play food or a kitchen to act out being a chef or other roles within a restaurant, such as a server or hostess. Strap on a toy tool
belt and “fix” things around the house to learn about handyman work, or build things while you discuss the
jobs of carpenters and construction workers.

You can play dress up with old Halloween costumes that may represent different jobs, such as firefighter, doctor or police officer. Use this opportunity for imaginary play to ask your child questions, such as, do you know what it means to have this job? Why would this be a job you would like to do?

Read Books About Careers

Head to your local library and search for books about various careers. There are nonfiction books available
about all kinds of jobs — what a person does, what they wear, and where they perform their work.

Talk About Jobs Wherever You Go

There is always an opportunity to discuss jobs with your child any time you leave your home. When running your errands, make a point to highlight all the people you encounter and the jobs they are doing. If it’s a situation where the person has the time and ability to do so, have your child ask a few questions about their job that you may not have the answers to or that they may simply be curious about. As you see people working in action, take the time to talk about the job setting. If being outdoors isn’t something your child enjoys, then being a park ranger may not be their thing. If your child enjoys movement, notice the more active jobs around you.

You can also mention attire, such as uniform or no uniform, business suit, or casual wear. These things will
be important when your child is making their future plans but are often overlooked since most discussions revolve around the job tasks and salary.

Job Shadow

Take Your Child to Work Day isn’t just a day off from school for kids. It’s an opportunity for them to see a
parent or caregiver in their work environment and to learn about their career and the jobs of coworkers. If your employer participates in this day, check with your child’s school to make sure this will be an excused absence (most schools in our county allow this) and plan for your child to join you at your workplace. Have them dress in similar attire as you normally would. Talk to them about the importance of being on time and duties that need to be completed.

If your child shows a strong interest in a particular career, reach out to a business in that field to see if there is an opportunity for them to job shadow for a day. For teens, some businesses have internship programs that are longer term and allow students to take a deep dive into a career to help them decide on their future path.

The most important thing you can do to help expose your child to their future career is to be open-minded and encourage them to learn more, even if it’s not your first choice for them. Helping them decide their future helps reach that ultimate goal we all have for our kids: seeing them love what they do so much that they never feel like they have to work a day in their lives.

Jennifer Halter (jenniferh@macaronikid.com) is a contributing writer and the founder of Macaroni Kid in
Woodbridge.

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