Career Exploration for Kids

How to Teach Children About Choosing an Occupation

Cheerful mother and son using digital tablet
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How young is too young to start thinking about careers? If you are a parent of an elementary or middle school student, or even one in the early years of high school, your child's career choice is probably the furthest thing from your mind. At this point in his or her life, you, and your student are probably more concerned about grades, friends, sports, and other interests. While you should be thinking about those things, career exploration for kids is also a critical part of their development.

While even older students are not yet ready to settle on a career choice, it benefits children to begin thinking about all the options available and what goes into choosing a career. Know the correct way to do it, can help students avoid falling for all the career planning myths that could lead them in the wrong direction.

Children are aware of only the relatively small number of occupations to which they are exposed, for example, doctor, dentist, teacher, firefighter, police officer, and whatever it is their parents and relatives do to make a living. Learning about other occupations broadens their choices and increases the odds that they will be able to find suitable careers. As they get closer to having to prepare for them, they can narrow down their choices and even begin to take related courses once they are in high school.

How You Can Help Your Children With Career Exploration

  • Read About Different Careers: You can find information online about every career imaginable. When your child expresses interest in any occupation, encourage him or her to research it to learn more.
  • Talk to People In Different Occupations: Ask people about their jobs when you see them engaged in work with which you both are unfamiliar. Find out what training they needed and if they like what they do.
  • Use Your Network: When your child expresses interest in learning about a particular career, access your professional network to find someone who can talk to him or her about it.
  • Protect Your Kids: Social media makes it is easy to connect with strangers who may be willing to share information about their careers. Some may not be well-meaning. Accompany your child to any meetings whether in person, on the phone, or via video chat. Make it your policy to read all correspondence as well.
  • Help Your Child Learn About Himself or Herself: When your student gets into his or her later high school years, he or she should do a self-assessment to discover his or her interests, values, personality, and aptitudes. Doing it earlier than that isn't necessary. But, you can help him or her start thinking about those traits at an early age and discussing how they will influence future career-related decisions.
  • Keep Your Opinions to Yourself: Your child may express interest in a career you think is all wrong for him or her. You may be right, or you may not know enough about that particular occupation to have formed an opinion. Do some research together. You may learn something and your child certainly will.

Other Ways to Learn About Occupations

One of the best ways to learn about a career is to watch someone doing that job. Job shadowing presents the opportunity for your teen or pre-teen to get an up-close look at a career by following someone at work for a few hours or a few days.

You should look for any opportunity to bring your child into the workplace not only to learn about occupations in which they express interest but also to make them aware of ones they have never heard of or about which they know little. Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, held around the world on the fourth Thursday of every April, exposes kids to a variety of careers by having them accompany their parents or other relatives to their workplaces.

Career days present another way to learn about the ways people make a living. Schools often invite parents and others into the classroom each year to discuss their occupations. If your child's school doesn't hold such an event, talk to the faculty and administration to see if they can start one. Community organizations, such as the Girl Scouts also hold career days.