Some parents cannot help but dream of their children’s future professions. Others fret over the choices that seem impractical or unrealistic. But what will your child say if you asked what she wants to be when she gets older?
While my son dreams of being a firefighter/inventor/film director, my daughter wants to be the president of the Philippines. While I’m glad we still have a long way to go before college, I had realized it’s a good thing that we started talking to them about career options when they were little, especially after listening to Dr. Ger Graus, who is the first global director of education at KidZania and a founding chief executive of The Children’s University, a multi-award winning charity that provided children with innovative learning opportunities outside school hours.
Dr. Graus was the keynote speaker at the 1st Educator’s Forum in KidZania with the theme "Raising the Next Generation: The Role We Play." One of his startling revelations was a study conducted at the Westfield Centre in Hammersmith and Fulham, which analyzed the role choices made by 4 to 14-year-olds in KidZania. The researchers found that the decisions made by 14-year-olds were very similar to those made by 4-year-olds. It indicated that even very young children can already start thinking about what they want to become.
The study, however, discovered the career choices boys and girls made indicated a gender gap as early as 4 years. More boys chose to be firefighters or pilots, while girls opted for roles in the cabin crew, which shows that even before preschool, girls and boys are already steered into thinking that certain jobs are for particular genders.
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Every parent today wants to raise their kids, whether boy or girl, to know they can be anything when they grow up. And to do that, Dr. Graus recommends that parents and teachers begin the process of career exploration as early as preschool age.
Here are some ways we can start:
1. Let children play.
According to Dr. Graus, there are too many restrictions being put on children today. From parks with too many no’s and don’ts to schools that focus on testing children rather than getting to know them as individuals.
“We need to let children be children,” he says with conviction. They need to be allowed to play, have fun and be happy.
Luckily, play has a two-fold purpose when it comes to career discussions. Because not only does it allow children to be happy, but it also equips them with skills that will give them an edge over other workers.
From a career counselor’s perspective, play benefits children by helping them build the so-called "soft skills." These are skills that help them become better at communicating, leading, solving problems, teamwork, decision-making, and being flexible. Soft skills are said to spell the difference between an adequate and ideal candidate and are highly sought by many employers.
2. Share your stories with your children.
As a little girl, I felt so privileged to hear my parents’ stories about what it was like when they were growing up. Their hardships, triumphs, and even naughty antics are all golden nuggets that I treasure. With my own children, we sometimes switch bedtime stories with snippets from my childhood. They giggle and even have some favorite ones that they ask me to repeat every so often.
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We sometimes forget the impact our personal histories have on our kids, and how these stories connect our relatives who came before us to the future generations. In many families, these conversations are especially important to push for social mobility, where the next generation will be able to enjoy better career options because of the sacrifices the previous ones made.
When Dr. Graus talked about social mobility, he shared a story about his grandfather, a coal miner whose hands had stiffened because of arthritis. Graus recalled his granddad telling him to work hard in school, and when he asked why, the old man held up his twisted hands and said, “So you won’t have hands like these.”
3. Have career talks with your young children.
These talks give them the chance to share their dreams. It’s a time when you can help them plot a path, make goals and learn about the career of their choice.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that their career choice will be written in stone, but it does help your children look to the future with excitement and feel involved in making decisions about their lives.
4. Give your child learning experiences.
It can mean meeting people from that profession or field, going on field trips, researching, reading books, or watching videos. These experiences will help manage their expectations as well as re-shape their career path.
Dr. Grau often bumps into people who say how much they regret not having a place like KidZania where children spend a day trying all sorts of jobs and learning about what the work entails while training, earning, saving and spending.
One valuable lesson we should always remember to teach our children is to find a job where they can contribute or serve the community doing something they love so that even when the work is hard, it is still fulfilling.
When Dr. Graus was in preschool, his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. His answer was “Happy.” She assumed he didn’t understand their question. Dr. Graus believes she just couldn’t cope with his response.
When you envision your child’s future don’t you want to see him happy? Whether or not my daughter becomes the president or my son puts out fires or makes films, I would like to hope that they find work that challenges and excites them while bringing them much joy. Isn’t that what we all want for our children?
Barbara Server-Veloso, known as Teacher Thumby in her preschool, Toddlers Unlimited, and Ms. Thumby in her grade school, Thinkers Unlimited, Alabang. She is also a partner in Spark Discovery Center in Jupiter Street, Makati where she teaches the Baby and Me Class. Thumby has a Masters Degree from the University of the Philippines in Family Life and Child Development. She has been teaching since 1993. She is also the mother of Lucas, 11, and Verena, 7. In her free time, she offers talks on essential oil for mothers and teachers interested in healthy lifestyles.