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How parents can help children with career decision-making

Kareen Cox
Career Writer

Career decision-making is a process, not an event that occurs at a given time. This process begins in the pre-school years and continues throughout all of adult life.

As a parent you will be expected to provide assistance to your child when that time comes to choose a career. But while you cannot and should not outrightly make that decision for your child, there are a few things you can do to help your child along the way. They are:

Encourage your child to ask and think about the question, 'What will I be when I grow up?' In the early years, children's hopes are often expressed in fantasy terms, especially during play. You will hear things such as, 'I'm a boy, so I'm Superman, or you're a girl so you're Superwoman'. Don't criticise such statements. Your child is exploring who he or she is becoming. It will help you to understand him or her better, if you let your child talk in this way. Provide toys that encourage experimentation through play with many different jobs.

Don't discourage your child from planning careers at an early age. It is better to ask, 'Why does this appeal to you?' than to say something like, 'You wouldn't like to do that,' or 'That's completely unrealistic.' Until major action decisions have to be made, it is better to let your child think about any/all possible job choices.

Try to help your child think about alternate choices. The question, 'If for some reason, you couldn't do this, what other things would you want to do?' is a good one to raise. It will help you learn more about your child, and will also help him or her to broaden the basis for career decision-making. Talking about your alternative career choices will also help in this. For example, discuss jobs you've had in the past, or changes you might be considering in your present occupation.

Try to eliminate gender bias in thinking about your child's future. Your daughter may wish to enter an occupation you might think of as 'masculine', or your son enter one that you consider 'feminine'. Do not discourage them from thinking about such occupations. Times are changing, and they will need extra measures of your emotional support. For example, if the child next door discourages your daughter from being a doctor because 'girls are nurses', take your daughter to a female doctor if you can. If you can't, point out women who are in traditionally male jobs. Say things like, 'A person's gender really doesn't matter, its ability that counts'.

Don't hesitate to respond when your child asks, 'What do you think I should be when I grow up?' Try to make it clear that it is more important that he or she is happy, than become what you would like. However, you can point out particular talents that he or she possess and discuss the jobs that these would be helpful in.

Tell the child about the work that you do. Try to do so in a positive way, so that your child will gain respect for you by respecting what you do. Do not encourage or discourage your child from considering your occupation. The important thing is that your child sees that you, through your work, are making contributions to society.

Encourage your child to ask people about their jobs. Make use of your family/friends that are in the occupations your child is considering. Emphasise to your child that he or she should seek information, not advice, from such persons. If your child is particularly interested, ask a friend if your child can visit him/her on the job to see what it entails.

Take your child on field trips to see various people at work. This is very helpful in letting children acquire a realistic view of a variety of jobs.

Help your child explore hobbies and other leisure-time activities that are productive and useful. Sometimes such activities can lead to career choices. However, whether they do or not is unimportant. What is important is that they can help your child see himself or herself as one who can accomplish something successful.

It is important for parents to realise, that their children's understanding of, and beliefs and attitudes they have towards work begins with them.

Next week: Help your children to understand how very important their school work will be in later job decisions.

Kareen Cox is coordinator, Career Resources Career Development Services Department HEART Trust/NTA. She can be contacted via email: Visit their websites: or

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