We know that it’s great to help young children have fun investigating and thinking about careers. As a parent, there are easy-to-do strategies you can use to make sure your child is open to thinking about careers.
- Make it fun!
What’s the key to making career activities and discussions at school successful and a positive experience for children? It’s maintaining the FUN factor. It would be crazy to attempt to speak seriously to children about future careers. The same applies at home. Any mention of careers should be done in a relaxed way, highlighting the exciting aspects of various careers. When the occasional opportunity arises, there is nothing wrong with mentioning a particular career to your child. Let’s say your child is good at drawing: “There are lots of exciting jobs for people who can draw really well. There are people who draw beautiful clothes and people who draw houses and big buildings. Let’s look at some of the tallest and most interesting buildings we can find on the internet… Let’s find some beautiful clothes a Fashion Designer has drawn”. If your child looks interested, they might have a lot of fun making Leggo buildings or designing clothes for a few days. But if your child looks bored, let it go. And don’t be disappointed. Your child has years and years to change and re-change career plans! But as well as teaching your child some new words – Architect and Fashion Designer – you have also given them the clear message that they can draw! And that’s a great confidence boost.
- Don’t reinforce stereotypes
Give your child the message that boys and girls can do any career they like. It’s frightening how quickly children pick up the idea that some jobs are just for boys or just for girls. Telling a girl that she can be a Construction Manager or a Pilot, a detective or the head of a big company is very empowering. Telling a boy that being a nurse or a primary teacher might be really exciting is equally empowering. There will be many overt and subtle messages that are working to maintain current stereotypes so messages from parents that paint a more balanced picture are fantastic.
- Support their dreams
Don’t panic if your child seems determined to be a train driver when you have been dreaming of the many exciting careers you think are far more suitable. Don’t gasp when your son says that he wants to be the next supermodel or a circus acrobat (that Cirque Du Soleil night had a different impact to the one you imagined!). Remember, kids change their minds a thousand times. If your daughter still wants to be that train driver or acrobat when she turns 18, so be it. The fastest way to push a child – and certainly a teenager – into the ‘arms’ of a particular career is to criticize it! And I’ve actually met a female train driver who loves her job so much more than her former career as a primary teacher. At the end of the day, children grow up and deserve the freedom to follow their dreams in every aspect of their lives – including choice of career. Re-watch the movie Billy Elliot if you need reminding about how important it is to let children follow their passions.
- Talk about your career
If you hate your career, be honest about it. “But you might love it Sean. You’re better at problem solving than me. And you are such a good organiser!” Make it a challenge to list how many different careers family members and family friends are working in. At the very least, your child will have a greater understanding of the many wonderful career choices out there. Talking about careers is great – but not every day or at every meal.
- Go to Open Days
In grade five or six, it can be a lot of fun to take children to university or TAFE Open days. They’re free. Calendars of events are on institution websites and many activities are hands-on and a lot of fun. Children can see robots that students have designed, furniture, prototypes of new cars or displays of food created by hospitality students. This is a great way to praise your child. “You’d be great at that Chris.” But be open to all institutions as well as all careers. Kids do listen and they are observant. They will quickly pick up on the fact that you think there really is only one university worth attending and the best careers are law and medicine! Remember, Billy Elliott. It’s better to have a happy plumber or dancer than a bored and depressed CEO in the family.
- Expose your child to a wide range of interests
Interests can lead to career choice. Children who discover they are talented athletes may go on to consider exercise science or physiotherapy. However, they may also love playing sport but still want to be a hairdresser or a surveyor. SUPPORT your child’s interests and eventual career choices. Pushing your interests and career dreams onto your child is a recipe for a damaged relationship with your child and an unhappy child to boot. Judo or art classes? The violin or netball? They’re all great but for the right child.