What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? The Confidence Crusher!

What do you want to be when you grow up?

This is a topic adults raise when talking to children the same way they raise the weather when talking to each other. When adults ask after the weather they recognise it as a social convention whether they question it closely or not. The weather conversation is social WD40.

However, children seem to take things far more literally than adults. They treat questions seriously.

Next time you are in the position to observe a child’s responses when they are asked what they want to be when they grow up, watch carefully! You will see thoughtfulness if not puzzlement; you’ll observe a certain level of abstractedness if not downright panic; you will witness a processor at 90% plus if not the social equivalent of the Blue Screen of Death!

So the child slips into cliche the way the adult slips into small talk.

A bus conductor. A nurse. An astronaut.

We could change the way we talk to children but let’s face it adults are more set in their ways and the answers here don’t matter that much to them. The minty uncle is only making small talk. It’s the child who is petrified by the possibilities. It’s their future they are defining irrevocably.

So it’s the child who needs to change their response. And this is how I see it.

A plan is better than no plan. Having a plan means progression. But what the child often doesn’t realise is that it is OK to change plans; that planning is all about development and revision on the fly. So even if they do decide to say: ‘An astronaut’, as long as they are aware that this can become pilot or groundcrew or cabin staff or even plane spotter, and isn’t a final word on the matter, then so much better for them. What the question does is pin them to a decision like a display moth to spreading board. They need to know that careers are more like living things and that they can wing it.

Better still, in my view, is for the child to be coached so that the response is open in the first place. I asked my 12 year old what she wanted to be this morning. I watched the bewilderment and uncertainty build before she said that she wasn’t really sure. I know she loves baking and cooking generally so I prompted that in the past she has indicated she would like to be a chef. This is fine as it adds a direction to her thoughts, but what if she had been able to say some thing like ‘I want to work in the food industry’? She could be a chef, or a retail manager, a hotelier, or an author. The more open response allows the possibility of superficially quite unrelated options.

How can the question be worded so that it is less constraining? What other types of responses are possible? Would love to hear comments and ideas!


About @moodybill

Trainee everything but practising teaching, photography, writing and drumming the hardest!
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2 Responses to What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? The Confidence Crusher!

  1. Suzy C says:

    poor kids. we’ve all been there, skewered to the spot with a direct question. Never a comfortable situation for a child or adult. Not sure what the solution is, but if I ask this question it comes from genuine interest rather than small talk, so I tend to be more general: have you any ideas yet about what you would like to do? are there things you think are fun and interesting in your life right now, that you feel good about?
    That is a great idea to get older kids prepped a bit as suggested, which means talking about it in a non-pressured way regularly if you can. My 15 year old twin boys still don’t have any clear ideas, which I am absolutely cool about. I want them to be able to explore what the world has to offer, and use their talents in I hope fulfilling ways. However, I am currently trying to impress on them the importance of getting the fundamentals of their education in place at every stage so that they have options once the formal part of learning is over. This is proving to be a challenge….

    • moodybill says:

      I’m right with you on your approach! So much easier on them to leave it open. I guess it also needs bearing in mind that some of the careers that are going to be available haven’t been thought of yet! And education isn’t just about a career either. As a tutor with all the pressures of exam cramming this is one thing I need to review all the time.

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