Talking About Work With Children

Parents play a dominant role in shaping children’s attitudes towards work, according to the Wall Street Journal. So, if the majority of Americans are generally satisfied with their jobs, why aren’t we conveying positive attitudes about work to kids?


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If kids aren’t hearing positive things about work, it’s probably because adults commonly make negative comments about work. Think about it. When talking about your day, do you share the things that have gone right or the things that have gone wrong? If nothing has gone wrong, do you respond to inquiries with a “fine” and leave it at that? In fact, so many people do one or both these things, that negativism is becoming an issue for employers, as well as families.

“If you grow up in a family where you hear, over and over ‘Don’t trust anybody,’ ‘Everybody’s out to get you,’ as a child you believe that,” Barbara Braunstein, a motivational speaker based in White Plains, New York, told the Indianapolis Business Journal. “Certain life experiences will teach people that negativity is accurate.”

Assuming that negativity isn’t accurate or the attitude anyone wants to convey to children about work, what can be done to present a more positive view? Here are some tips for talking to children, your's or someone else’s, about work:

Focus on the positive

Adults often ask children if they have done anything fun recently. Ask yourself the question, instead. Unless you really had a horrible day, chances are you can come up with something that you enjoyed during the day. Even if it was a horrible day, perhaps you can talk about the lessons you learned or how glad you are to be with the child now and do something fun together, like taking a bike ride or playing a game. With older children, talk about accomplishments, yours and theirs. Be sure to share why you chose your career and what you love about your job.

Draw comparisons

Sometimes, kids wonder why they have to study a certain subject or even go to school. A good way to address this question is to provide real-life examples of how the subject applies to your life. A better way is to get in the habit of drawing comparisons between your work and their school or play. Talk about how both relate to household needs; friends, family and the community; and even the world at large.

Share goals and motivations

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" isn’t just a question for kids. Think about your career, where you would like it to go, and why. Share those thoughts with your kids. Ask them, not just what they want to be as adults, but what they want to be or do next year, next month, or next week, as well as why they want to and how they are going to achieve it. These conversations can be great opportunities for discussing values, moral reasoning, financial responsibility and motivations. Resist the urge to tell a child how to achieve their goals in an authoritative style. Provide some gentle guidance, but allow kids to chart as much of their own course as possible. Describe your own decision-making process, especially with tweens and teens.

Let the child lead

Many adults worry about talking above or below a child’s understanding. To avoid this, let the child lead the conversation. Children typically ask a lot of questions but don’t always listen to the answers fully, so keep answers short and direct. Use simple terms and avoid jargon, especially with younger children. For instance, a five-year-old is probably not going to understand “tax planning” or even “financial management”, but they probably will understand “helping people save money”. Chances are if a child doesn’t understand but is interested in what you are saying, they will ask another question allowing you to further explain or offer an alternative explanation.

Show, don’t tell

If possible and practicable, show the child where you work. You might even show older children what you do. That way, when talking to them about work you can refer to the shared experience, and the child will have a concrete context for what is being said. Visit the child’s school or day care facility and meet their teachers and classmates. The more familiar you are with the child’s environment, the more comfortable you will be discussing it with them.

An added bonus to practicing these tips is that your own attitude about work may improve. By paying attention not just to what you are saying, but also to the message you are conveying, a positive attitude may quickly become a good habit for everyone.

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