Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day can be an exciting day for kids; a chance to glimpse in to the mysterious work life of mom or dad and see what they do every day. You may have conversations with your kids about your work, but how much do they actually understand about what you do? Taking your child to work can be a great opportunity to pull back the curtain a bit and start some important conversations about work, life, and purpose. If you do take your child to work with you, here are some tips to talk with them about what they experienced.
Make the Invisible Visible
Kids have a basic understanding of work, but when it comes down to it, they often don’t really know what their parents do all day long. “I think for many of us, our work is very abstract and hard for kids to get their minds around,” says Jennifer Miller, a Parent Toolkit expert and a family and education consultant. “So much of our work is invisible.”
Miller suggests looking for ways to really show kids what you do, and emphasize that in conversations. Daily or weekly, you may share some exciting or big news with your family about work, but what was the process that got you there? What challenges did you encounter? Who did you have to work with? How did you solve problems? These specific details will help kids understand what work looks like and that it is more than simply going to the same place every day. Bringing kids to work offers a perfect opportunity to highlight these details. “That exposure is key to starting the conversation,” Miller says.
Talk About Why We Work
We all have different reasons for why we do the work that we do. We also have unique perspectives on the role of work in our lives. So, talk to your child about this! Bringing them to work with you is a great moment to reflect on what place work has in your life and your family’s life.
Miller suggests asking questions like, “Why do we work? Why does Mom/Dad spend so much time at this place? Do you think I like my job every day?” Many people work to sustain their family and make money, but we also work to contribute something to the world, practice our art, use our skills, or help others. Often, it’s a combination of many of these things. “Having a chance to talk about the meaning of work is really significant,” Miller says.
You could also highlight your choices and how they’ve impacted your work. “There’s nothing wrong with explaining to kids, ‘Here’s how my time is divided up, here are some of choices I’ve had to make,’” Miller says. “Even young kids can understand that we make choices not always because we want to, but because it’s necessary. Parents have to make really difficult choices all the time. Kids will gain empathy with their parents when they begin to hear the conversation about some of these hard decisions.”
Talk About Purpose
Sometimes, you may feel that your kid has never listened to anything you’ve ever said, but they are picking up and reflecting on what you say more than you may think. Talk about the purpose work brings you. What interests led you to your job? What are your favorite aspects of your job? How does your work contribute to your life? This day is a great opportunity to not only share your interests with your child, but to get a sense of your child’s passions, too.
Even when they are young, it’s a great time to start the conversation about finding a life that is purposeful to them, whatever that may look like. Start simply, and ask, “I can see that X is really important to you. What do you like about it? What are you doing when you do X?” Jane Horowitz, a Parent Toolkit expert and a career advisor, says taking your kid to work also offers a moment to help kids think outside the box a little with life and work. “How do you integrate work with the rest of your life? Life is work, work is life, life is life. It’s an aspect of your life,” Horowitz says. “Work is also social. That’s where I met my friends. This gets them to think of the role that work plays in your life.”
Practice Perspective Taking
When your child has a chance to see firsthand what your workday looks like, it’s a unique moment for them to see the world from your viewpoint. “It’s a great exercise in perspective taking, as the child actually gets to take the adult’s perspective for the day,” Miller says.
Horowitz suggests starting a conversation with, “Can you see yourself doing X, Y, or Z?” For young kids, this may be simply, “Can you see yourself in an office?” or “Can you see yourself working with a lot of different people?” As kids get older, this could turn into, “Can you see yourself commuting an hour to work every day?” or “Do you imagine yourself managing a team of people?”
“It’s getting them to think about their vision of their day at work,” Horowitz says. Ultimately, you want your kids to start thinking about where they could see themselves.
Ask About What They Learned
This may seem obvious, but talking about what they learned at your work extends to you, too. It’s easy to forget that we’re still learning, even though we’re not in school. When you’re starting these conversations, make sure to highlight what you learn at work every day, too.
“Maybe what’s more than preparing them for the day is doing a debrief afterwards,” Horowitz says. “Get a sense of their impressions of the day, and share yours too.” Ask questions like, “What did you see that was interesting? Who did you like meeting the most? What was your favorite thing that you tried? Did anything surprise you?”
Jane Horowitz suggests that parents and kids make a project out of it, and create a “vision board” or story about their experience that day. Cut out pieces from a magazine or write down specific things that kids saw, felt, or thought about. This will help them reflect on their experience in a creative way.
Connect Work to Their Life
Yes, work is for “adults,” but there are ways that even young kids engage with work every day. Find ways to connect work with responsibilities kids already have. “Make connections with household responsibilities and school responsibilities, so children don’t see work outside of themselves in their far future, or something just for adults,” Miller says. “Kids participate in work every day, they just don’t label it that way.”
For example, point out that being part of a family is a responsibility. We are part of a household, where we have chores, make our beds, and participate in family life. Kids do work at school with their learning, which extends to homework and assignments outside of school. When kids see that work exists in many different ways, their future possibilities start expanding.
Jennifer Miller also suggests looking for moments of genuine engagement and then asking about them. “Part of a parent’s job is looking for strengths and articulating them for kids,” Miller says.
Talk About Work Ethic
Part of showing your kids your work is showing them that you work hard at something every day. “Work ethic is having a sense of responsibility. Being there on time, persisting toward your goals, and working hard. Those are very social and emotional qualities that we’re trying to build in our children, and that starts at a young age,” Miller says.
Miller suggests finding ways to make work ethic evident. Provide examples while you’re at work; “Here’s how I work hard, here’s how I make sure that I’m being responsible in the workplace, here’s why I’m expected to go to these meetings, here’s how I show up on time and turn in my work.” All these little things add to your child’s overall understanding of what goes into being successful at a job, but also being a contributing member of society.
A great way to extend the day and continue the conversation is to play work. For younger kids, find a way for them to take what they experienced at your work and transform it into their own creative universe. Encourage them to set up a “work space” and then play with them! Ask questions about what they’re doing while they play like, “Why did you set up the space this way? Why is this an important part of your work today? How are you helping someone in this job?” Help them set up an office or a restaurant, then practice waiting tables or answering phones or filling out a bank document or writing a pitch for a story.
Taking your kid to work offers creative opportunities to start conversations around career and social and emotional development. Remember, this isn’t just one “talk”, but a continuous conversation that will grow and evolve over time. The most important thing to keep in mind when having these conversations? Listen! Really listen to your kids as they develop their understanding of what it means to work and live in this world.