Why You Shouldn’t Ask Your Kids “What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?”

by ChristinaPilkington on June 13, 2012 · 30 comments

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Have you ever asked your children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a question most kids are asked at one time or another. And I think most adults mean well when they ask this question.

When we ask that question, we’re really implying that our children aren’t doing anything important right now. It’s saying, “When you grow up, then you’ll be doing something really important.”

Kids have this idea that when they are “grown-up” they will finally be able to live out their dreams. The things they’ve told friends, relatives and countless strangers that they want to “be,” that will only come true once they’ve grown up. 

Then they’re hit with reality.

The thing they wanted to be has often morphed into the thing someone else wants them to be. Or the thing they want to be turns out to be something they didn’t expect it would be because they were never given a chance to really explore that thing fully when they were still young.

And now that they’re “grown-up,” they think that what they are doing is what they need to do for the rest of their lives, even if it’s something for which they have no passion and interest. They no longer have that glimmer of hope that there’s an exciting and magical future waiting for them.

So what should we ask instead of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” 

How about, “What do you want to be now?”

Kids have a difficult time thinking about what they want to do five, ten, or fifteen years from now. In fact, most kids don’t even have a clue what they want to be doing six month from now.

But they know what they want to do now. They know what interests and excites them today.

And as they go after those things that make them feel alive, they become the people they were meant to be.

All those experiences, people they’ve met, activities they’ve participated in, books they’ve read, places they’ve traveledto, work they’ve done, and dreams they’ve accomplished, will shape them into the adult they will be someday. 

How can they truly know what they want to be until they’ve experienced all those things first?

When we can help our children achieve their current dreams and goals, it stretches them. It helps them push towards more complex dreams and goals – goals that take more effort but that also yield a much higher reward.  

By honoring their current dreams and goals, we’re showing them that what they are doing now IS important. They can make an important contribution to the world right now. They don’t have to wait until they are adults.

If your child wants to be a baker, found out ways he can do that – not only for himself, but also for others. If your child wants to be an archeologist, find out ways she can do that now.

Its’ great to help your children work on academic or practical skills they need to pursue those dreams, but don’t forget to help them really participate right now in the things they want to do, too.

Some day our children will be grown-up. And if they’ve used to thinking about what they want to be now instead of someday, they will have grown up working towards their own goals and achieving great things.

They’ll know what it feels like to be what they want to be in the moment – not having to wait for the future.

Photo Credit: The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort and Spa

 

How can your encourage your children to be what they want to be today?

 

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  • http://twitter.com/Justanothermom Tracey Becker

    Also, being a baker doesn’t mean they have to work in a bakery and being a scientist doesn’t mean they have to have a science degree. We can all be many, many things.

    • christinapilkington

      Very, true. When someone is defined just on what they do to make money, that presents a very, very limited picture of who that person really is. Thanks for adding that :)

  • http://thegettys.blogspot.com Susan

    Another super post! I definitely encourage my girls to find ways to expand on their current interests right now…not wait until some point in the future when they’re grown up. We do talk about the future from time to time, of course, but I think it’s important to focus on the here and now…which is a stepping stone to whatever is to come. I want my girls to know that they can act in the present, that they don’t have to be grown up to have power to make changes in their lives.

    • christinapilkington

      I like that phrase, stepping stone. That fits perfectly with what I was writing about. It’s all the things our kids are doing right now that will bring them to where they will be when they “grow-up.” You’re right, too, about showing kids that they have power to change their world right now.

  • http://twitter.com/ChildLedChaos Anne-Marie

    I talk to my 5yr old about what she does now, and don’t limit her to one thing. We also talk about what she’ll do as she’s older: that she can be an artist, a dancer, a gymnast, a teacher, an author, a parent and anything else all at the same time but also she *is* an artist now etc. She’ll change as she grows, and we try hard to encourage what she does but also working at doing more in the future too. I’m 36 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I’m grown up! Excellent post :-)

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks so much! You’re right that when we ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, we’re teaching them to limit themselves to one thing. Really we are a combinations of lots of different interests and talents. And change is really good. It’s scary for kids to think that they have to make one choice and stick with it for the rest of their lives. I like what Susan said about stepping stones. The choices we make today are stepping stones that will lead us down future paths.

  • Fizziteh

    I have a girl who is 6 now. She said she wants to be doctor when she grows up. I often replied: ” Really? It’s going to take much hard work into….” I never want to “douse” her wishes since I noticed she was so determined to want to be in this profession…also I never see child who is serious on things that she wants to be at such young age. I used to tell her why not she be singer? And she got offended and she ” snubbed” me by saying: ” Mom, you must understand, to be world famous singer is your wish, and I’m not gonna fulfil your wish, I’ll only want to fulfill my wish and my wish is to become doctor…” so, from then onwards, I never like to take lightly of any of what she said and be serious of what she said. But I also think any child at 6 ever so determined? I never asked her what she wants to be when she grows up….And I think after reading your excellent I think I’m gonna help her to achieve her dreams NOW.

    • christinapilkington

      This is great! It’s funny because it’s usually the other way around. Parents often want to encourage being a doctor and discourage their kids from being singers or anything in the fine arts! I think it’s awesome that your daughter is so determined. You’re right.. not many kids that age are so focused on a big dream like that. I’d encourage you to let her experience as much as she can of what’s it’s like to be a doctor now. See if you can volunteer somehow in a hospital so she can be around doctors. Maybe you know a doctor that would let her come and shadow him or her. Buy her a microscope and make lots of slides. Read books about doctors. Let her live her dream as much as possible now.

  • Darleensun

    I can relate to this article! When my first grade teacher asked me “what I wanted to be when I grew up”, I facetiously responded “a horse”. She did not get my humor and published my answer in a book for our parents to see. Of course my parents read it and questioned my reasoning. Luckily I argued back that no first grader should be under that amount of pressure to possibly know what they wanted to do as an adult when we are only six. It was shortly after that that I was moved to the gifted program.

    • christinapilkington

      I love it!

  • Christennhc

    I love this! Due to my parents asking that question when we were young, the focused in on our first answer and that was WHAT we “had” to do as adults. But when I got to high school, I realized that WASN’T what *I* wanted anymore. It sounded cool at the time, but I was becoming who I was. I ended up dropping out of college, because I felt like it was my only other option at the time. I don’t regret my decision, but I DO regret allowing my parents to make a decision that was mine to make for me when it was time for college.

    • christinapilkington

      This is so true. I’m sorry things worked out for you like it did. Sometimes parents think they’re doing a good thing by asking their child what they want to do, but then they’re not flexible enough to change when their child wants to change. Almost always the things you’d like to do as a child change or evolve as you grow older. Parents shouldn’t look at a child changing his or her mind as being fickle or unfocused. There’s often a pretty logical if sometimes meandering path that kids have to take to get when they eventually want to be.

  • http://www.discovershareinspire.com/ Rachel

    This is excellent! Love the idea and philosophy behind it.

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks!

  • ClarkVand

    LOVE this post! Life is about the NOW not just for us grown-ups but for kids too!

    • christinapilkington

      Yes!!!!!!!!

  • http://motherhoodjourneys.com/ Corinne

    Wow, I had never thought of this question in this way. I love this post and it has helped sort some thoughts in my head with my own children and the things we do. THANK YOU.

    • christinapilkington

      I’m so very glad you found it helpful :) Thanks for stopping by!

  • http://respectlovelearning.blogspot.com/ Helena

    Oh, this post so resonates with me, Christina! I feel so strongly about this subject. Celebrating who kids are now, listening to their voices now, supporting their dreams NOW—this is the core of who I am, not just as a mama, but as a person. It’s the core of our life as a family. Listening, supporting, celebrating.

    We do so much dream realising now, that I sometimes wonder what extraordinary paths will come in the future, if already my kids are free to be web designers, journalists, professional musicians, published authors, and juggler extraordinaires! It’s such an exciting adventure, this life, filled with Yes, and WHy Not, and Tell me your Dreams. Makes me smile, just to think of it…

    Almost a year ago exactly, I wrote a blog post that seems to sit with your post like an old friend. I thought I’d share it here :)

    http://respectlovelearning.blogspot.com.au/2011/07/portrait-of-artist-as-young-girl.html

    Have a beautiful day, Christina!

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks so very, very much for sharing your post. It is absolutly one of the most beautiful, gorgeous pieces of writing I’ve read in a while. Very, very powerful. You’re an amazing writer.

      • http://respectlovelearning.blogspot.com/ Helena

        Thank you so much, Christina. Isn’t it lovely that our words found each other, and resonated? Like a note sung near a piano, and the string inside ringing in recognition. Makes me happy.

        • christinapilkington

          Me, too. Very, very happy :)

  • http://twitter.com/redwhiteandgrew Pamela Price

    Amen.

    • christinapilkington

      :)

  • TarynHayes

    I really really *really* like this post! Thank you for sharing this – I’m definitely sharing it too! I belong to a homeschool FB group (Homeschool Western Cape) and various others – the moms and dads there will appreciate your post too. It’s quite a liberating approach for both kids AND adults! Thanks again! :)

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks so much for sharing this, Taryn! I hope it inspires hope and freedom.

  • Ross Mountney

    A really thought provoking post, well done!

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks!

  • http://creatingtreasures.blogspot.com/ Tereza Crump

    Christina, this is such an important topic. I have never asked my kids what they want to be when they grow up? Like you, I value their TODAY more than what they will be in the future. The future is the result of many TODAYs.

    I do try to listen to my kids and make their “wishes” a reality as much as possible. Remember we talked about the wish lists? Sometimes those wish lists are things they want to do so they can become.

    I noticed how much they mature and grow when they do something they have been wanting for a while: ride their go cart, ride horses, play soccer, bake a cake on their own, cut vegetables with a real knife… so funny! those things seem so simple, but they are stepping stones to building their confidence in themselves, their self knowledge.

    So yeah, I focus on today with my kids and pray for their futures. :)

    • christinapilkington

      I’ve always loved wish lists, or dream big lists, or things that make us feel alive lists. I really think it helps us to become clear on those things that we love doing and where we want to be both now and in the near future. I also agree that kids seem to grow and mature so much more when they focus on achieving dreams that are possible within their immediate future.

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