Chances are that at some point your little one wanted to be a firefighter, ballerina, construction worker, or princess. In fact, chances are good that you did, too. Young children seem to go through a fantasy phase of career development, and the aspirations haven’t changed much over time.
You may wonder whether these fantasies mean anything. Is your little girl destined to passively await Prince Charming instead of taking Wall Street by storm? Is your little boy really going to blow off high school and hit the open road in an 18 wheeler?
Not likely, say the experts. “Young children tend to gravitate towards careers that appear fun and exciting to them, because either someone they know and admire has that job or because they've heard about it in a book, movie, or television show,” says Michael Popkin, Ph.D., author of Taming the Spirited Child: Strategies for Parenting Challenging Children Without Breaking Their Spirits.
“Parents should encourage this enthusiasm, asking questions and helping them learn about whatever career catches their fancy. Most kids will move on to other options as they mature, so parents need not worry about their bright 5-year-old making a bad career choice and winding up a cobbler. Much better to talk about how cool being a cobbler might be and fanning the flames of work appreciation early on.”
There’s no rush to end a child’s career as an astronaut or president, but it can’t hurt to expose her to some more earthly pursuits as well. As you’re reading a book about her favorite subject, point out all the people whose work sends the astronaut into orbit – the engineers who design the spacecraft, the chefs who prepare special food, the newscaster who broadcasts it to the world. Talk about the different skills each brings to the job, and how important each is. Make it clear that no one from the most famous fly-boy to the most humble member of the crew succeeds without working as a team, doing the preparation, and showing a strong work ethic.
Of course, the best teacher of all of these traits is you. You may not be a ballerina, but your attitude towards your work (paid or not) is infectious. Next time you catch yourself about to complain, bite your tongue. Tell your child all the things you like about your career, whether it’s earning money or interacting with interesting people. As your child grows and discovers his own limitations, you’ll want to help him find his strengths as well. Explore different career opportunities, and investigate what’s required to succeed. After all, not everyone can be a princess, but we’ve all got to grow up sometime.