There seems to be so much pressure on kids to choose their paths earlier and earlier, and while there’s no harm in asking little ones the fun question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (An astronaut! A daddy! A celebrity! An elephant!), my guest today, author of Who Do I Want To Become? (and also one of Canada’s most influential and inspiring female leaders) Dr. Rumeet Billan wants to encourage us to dig a little deeper!
You want your children to grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults. It’s one of the most important things to a parent.
You play a crucial role in helping your children become the adults they want to be, in helping them decide what impact they want to have on the world. And in showing them that those decisions are theirs to make.
You want children to have all the tools and encouragement necessary to make their own decisions. That means not limiting their choices. And it means helping them to realize who they want to become, not just what they want to be. In a future that may be very different due to automation and technology, autonomy and independent thought are valuable assets.
But helping your children become well-rounded, fulfilled adults isn’t easy. There’s no clear blueprint. The fact that so many grown-ups are still trying to figure out who they want to be is ample proof of that. So how do you inspire and teach your children to be ready for a future that promises to be very different?
Start by asking them the right questions.
Many times, conversations with your children focus on what they want to do when they grow up, rather than what kind of person they want to be. But children don’t have the experience to really answer it. Instead, children are likely to focus on what they’ve seen on TV or online and what their role models – namely you – do.
The unfortunate consequence is that it limits their universe of possibilities. Further, an unintended implication is that children should dedicate themselves to becoming one single thing. And before you know it, your child is choosing school courses and educational pathways based on a choice made too early and while lacking knowledge and experience.
Educational specialists have tried changing the question to, “What are you passionate about?” Youth are encouraged to follow their passions and align their purpose to them. This is a better question, but it is still problematic. Youth still have a limited scope of experiences that may prevent them from accurately identifying what they are truly passionate about. Further, passions change as children are exposed to different subjects, adventures and experiences.
So instead of asking children to focus on the narrow range of experiences they have been exposed to, broadening their exposure could help them to discover a direction that they hadn’t thought of before.
Start by having conversations. Discuss school subjects and activities that your child is interested in and why; make a list with your child of their strengths and what they believe themselves to be good at; begin talking to them about different careers and activities related to those interests and strengths; help them set goals, both immediate and longer-term; and discuss your own goals and hopes to offer a glimpse of adult perspective.
During these conversations, listen to your children without interruption or judgment. Treat them as equals by offering more open-ended questions than answers, by encouraging them to generate their own solutions and by making eye contact so they feel a strong connection.
Be open about daily issues facing your family, your local community and the global community.
Discuss age-appropriate news stories and encourage them to talk about cause, impact and possible solutions. Localize those stories to your own community and talk about possible solutions. For example, if you’re talking about pollution and the environment, examine whether the local park has a problem with litter.
Translate those conversations into action. If that park is littered, perhaps you and your child could organize or join a neighbourhood effort to clean it up. Or you could encourage your child to donate some of their books or toys to the local library or community centre or join your child in contributing to the local food bank.
You could also take your child with you as you make the rounds of the community, introducing them to local business owners, volunteers and leaders. If possible, take them to meet local professionals, educators or politicians.
Most importantly, allow your child to make their own decisions. Show them how you make decisions, how you weigh options and seek opinions. But then allow them to decide, not only about personal matters such as what to wear to school or what book to read before bed, but also about what community issues to discuss or tackle. Help them to take responsibility and accountability.
It’s a big world. Before you ask your child what part they want to play in it when they grow up, show them the universe of possibilities, show them the issues that need to be addressed, talk to them about the life ahead. Don’t force them to make the wrong choice when they’re too young, give them what they need to allow them to make the right choices that suit them.
Dr. Rumeet Billan is the author of Who Do I Want To Become?, available now!