What You Tell Your Kids About Work Will Shape Their Future

When a kid asks, “What do you do for work?”, your answer will influence their perception of what work is and what it’s for. It’s a big responsibility, so treat it as one.

How adults describe work to kids has powerful implications for their impression of it, which will shape their future. Complaining about a boss might seem harmless, but it makes them think a “boss” is a negative concept. Perhaps they’ll avoid being one in future. Seeing work as something that “pays the bills” takes the element of choice out of the role and makes it seem like somewhere you are forced to go.

Here’s what to tell a child about your work.

“I get to go to work”

If you say you have to go to work, or grumble and huff your way out of the door, a kid will believe that work is something to avoid. If you’re only your happy self during the weekend, they’ll come to associate work with sadness and non-work with happiness. That will be how they act when they begin their career, because they’ll think it’s normal.

Refer to work as somewhere you get to go, not have to go, to convey the element of choice.

“I’m making a difference”

When explaining what you do for work, it would be easy to do so in terms of actions. Sending emails, having meetings, writing papers. But that misses an opportunity to communicate the “why”. What’s the difference you’re making and to whom? You don’t install stairlifts, you help people who can’t walk very well have freedom. You don’t compile accounts and submit forms to the tax office; you help inventors and visionaries create amazing companies by taking care of the essential yet tricky stuff that no one else can do.

Communicate the difference you make, not the tasks you complete.

“I’m learning things”

Kids are familiar with going somewhere to learn something because that’s what they do at school. Help them understand that work is no different. You learn from people and from mistakes and from reading and looking at trends. It’s like lessons, only bigger and more exciting and you take what you learn and try out new things based on that.

Every day is a school day when you’re learning on the job.

“I’m working with great people”

Maybe you work as part of a team and maybe they drive you mad sometimes. But it’s likely that each team member will have unique qualities that means their input is important. Helping a kid not only understand that you collaborate, but how everyone’s individual role contributes to achieving a goal, will instil messages of teamwork and partnerships.

Working well with people helps you go further with your plans and means everyone wins. Ensure it’s second nature.

“It means we can do that”

In this instance, “that” is whatever you buy that you value. When I was growing up, work was something that enabled holidays. Perhaps you’re the same. Making the link between that nice holiday you have every year, and someone going to work, could help someone understand the cause and effect behind a role. It could be your house, or the tasty food you eat for dinner.

Choose a luxury and link it to work to develop positive connotations.

Work can be an exciting place for kids and grown-ups alike. Amazing inventions can be discovered and problems can be solved at scale. Your work might help people and make a difference, but you could be missing that story and opportunity to inspire. Cultivate feelings of excitement and wonder about what they might be able to do, when the right time comes in their future. Answer a kid’s questions about work well and set them up to thrive.

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