You go to work in the morning, come home at the end of the day, squeezing in your children’s piano recitals and soccer games along the way. As kids grow into teens and young adults, says parenting coach David Danzig, it’s important to share your career with them. Talking about your professional life illuminates who you are as a person and models what it means to be a grown-up. You don’t need to wait for Take Your Child to Work Day, either. The conversation should happen year-round.
There’s another reason to talk to your kids about your work life—to explore your own feelings about it. The conversations you have with your children are the kinds of discussions that can lead to meaningful career change, whether it’s pushing for more education, more interesting projects, or even becoming your own boss.
See also: The New Rules for Career Happiness
1. Ask lots of questions. “What do you think I do for work? What do you want to know about it?” Teens and young adults often feel like “everyone is talking ‘to’ them,” Danzig warns. Treating them like equal conversation partners will break the ice.
2. If you’re feeling guilty because you work a lot, be honest about it. Older kids can take it. “It’s actually helpful to share your thought process with kids,” says Danzig. “One of teenagers’ developmental tasks is to learn how to function in society. If you can be honest with kids about your own struggles, you’re helping them to prepare for life’s challenges down the road.”
3. Share workplace stories that show you’re vulnerable, too. “You don’t need an invulnerable superhero persona with older kids,” says Danzig. Open up about your day over dinner: Did you clash with your boss? Did you complete a project you’re proud of? By sharing a bit of your daily life, you’re modeling coping behavior as they deal with their own developmental milestones—and giving them a safe space to open up. Plus, says Danzig, it’s more productive than asking, “How was your day?” and getting a sullen, one-word reply.
4. If you’re facing a professional problem, ask their advice. “It empowers them to think about different ways to problem-solve,” he says. “They’ll learn about real-world problems without having to confront them first-hand.”
5. Bring them to work with you whenever possible. “Teens will rarely share that they’re interested in what you do directly, but it can benefit them. Developmentally, kids want to know: Who am I, and what am I going to do with myself? Showing them different options based on your own experiences can help them learn,” Danzig says.
6. Tell the truth. We all want the best for our kids, and just as we yearn for work that matters, we’d love for them to find a dream career someday too. Of course, they might want to know why you’re not living your own dreams. If you’re not passionate about your current situation, reframe it for your kids. “I don’t love what I’m doing right now, but I love that I’m able to provide for you,” he says. And remember, sharing failures is helpful, too. Providing a resilient example is crucial in setting your growing kids on the right professional path.
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