When Kids Say What They Want To Be When They Grow Up

portrait of a child dressed as...
David Blaine says he had a fascination with magic from the time he was a young boy. When he told his mother, a schoolteacher, that he wanted to be a magician when he grew up, she replied, "That's amazing!" Whether Blaine's mother truly supported the idea or simply never thought her son would pursue a passion that would have him performing nail-biting feats of endurance, I don't know. Nonetheless, her support had an obvious positive impact on the young Houdini.

Not long after children utter their first words are adults asking them the age-old question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I remember my oldest son declaring at one point that he wanted to be a firefighter-train stopper. I'm not sure if this combo profession was a sign of ambivalence or early recognition of the importance of crossover skills. Fortunately as the years progressed he discovered there really is only one Superman, and he is now a college junior studying global supply chain management and finance. Such an obvious transition.
Earlier this year, my great-niece graduated from preschool. The ceremony included the young kindergartners-to-be strutting across the stage declaring what they want to be when they grow up. (They also held signs, this way if little Paulie froze the teacher could gently remind him that he wants to be an actor.) There were a handful of princesses, several professional athletes, an astronaut, and the ambitious youngster who not only wants to be a doctor, but also had a specialty picked out as well. That evoked the loudest applause and cheers, much to the princesses' dismay.

So what are parents to do when their child declares a future profession? Here are five tips to remember:
  • You can never go wrong with supporting your child's dreams, especially when they are very young. Chances are they will change their minds more times than you can count, but what they will remember is your encouragement to go for it. (Years later Blaine still talks about his mother's response.)​
  • Don't try to influence your child based on your own experiences or desires. I know too many parents who want their children to either follow in their footsteps or steer clear of their profession. "Your father is a lawyer, and your grandmother was a lawyer, and her father was a lawyer..." or "You definitely don't want to be a journalist. You'll work long hours, it doesn't pay and there are no jobs out there. Believe me, I know." Your experience is not necessarily going to be their experience, and while guidance and advice are fine, it is ultimately their life to live.
  • Never encourage your child to pursue a profession just for the money. There's nothing wrong with a realistic understanding of the earning potential of a profession, but choosing a career based on salary alone will never result in a satisfying life.
  • Remind your child that not knowing what they want to do is OK. There is so much pressure to have a plan at a ridiculously young age. I recently overheard an adult ask a third grader if she was thinking about going to college. Really? Let the kid hit puberty first.
  • Talk with your child about their strengths and talents. As they get older, have them speak with people who are doing work that interests them to discover the path they took to get there. When they are choosing a college major, have them research the career opportunities that course of study could lead to.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a teacher. Then I changed my mind in high school and decided to study communication in college. Now I am a life coach. And when I grow up I want to be Beyoncé.
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