3 Smart Alternatives to “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
This question is one of the trademarks of our culture. Most of us are asked this nearly as soon as we’re old enough to string together the simple sentence required to answer it. And then we pass it along — it’s a go-to conversation starter when we meet kids.
And even when kids outgrow that specific question, they don’t outgrow the sentiment. Instead, we ask it in more grown-up forms:
What do you want to major in?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What field do you want to go into?
It’s absolutely important that kids are thinking, planning, and dreaming for the future. And one of the best ways to ensure that they’re doing that is by asking them fresh questions that will help them think constructively and creatively about their future. But it is also important that we talk about their curiosities and passions as much as we do the specific path they’re planning on taking.
What do you want to learn more about?
This line of thinking opens the door for even the youngest of kids to think about all the things in their life as a grounds for potential learning. Not just the school topics they most love, but also about other areas of life they may not have considered. Something they saw on TV or a conversation they had with a friend can be just the thing to prompt them.
It would be a waste to know where kids are most inclined to be interested in learning, but not pursue it. This question takes a fresh approach to fleshing out the things that kids care about and are likely to pursue passionately.
It also provides a platform to talk about something that should be encouraged: learning happens everywhere. Kids do it all the time; they don’t discriminate against the seemingly mundane. Between birth and two-years-old the human brain grows to 80 percent of the size of an adult’s brain. And by encouraging kids to pursue the things they find interesting, even those that exist outside the typical school realm, they’re able to broaden their horizons and view of the future.
Who do you want to be like? Or Who inspires you?
Even at a young age, kids have heroes. It can be tempting to think that the ten-year-old in your life loves a certain character from books or television based on only surface-level reasoning. And sometimes it is. But sometimes it goes deeper than that.
Maybe your ten-year-old likes “How to Train Your Dragon” simply because there are dragons. But maybe, they watch again and again because they’re so drawn to the dynamic of an individual being a little bit different. Maybe even at a tender age, they’re responding to the empathy expressed in the relationships.
Allowing them to communicate who they’re inspired by can also clue their teacher(s) into the fact that they think in a unique format.
What problems in the world would you like to solve?
This question prompts kids in an especially helpful manner to look both at themselves and at the world around them in relation to each other. It gives kids the opportunity to think about the fact that they aren’t just moving through life, disconnected from all others, but rather that they’re a part of the grand scheme. They have the ability to impact others, for better or worse.
“Children are natural problem solvers, and early childhood settings - where children interact with one another and participate in decision making - offer countless opportunities for children to grow in their problem-solving abilities. These important experiences help children learn to value different kinds of thinking, think logically and creatively, and take an active role in their world,” notes Ellen Booth Church for Scholastic.
Fostering that innate inclination to solve problems will give kids a pivotal head start to continuously look at the situations that arise with the critical and creative ability to assess problems and solve them.
Talking with them about the difficulties and problems they see in the world not only will reveal where their attention and interest lies, but they can then be encouraged to recognize possible, rewarding career paths.
When Gouthem Menton of University Nevada, Reno was asked what kinds of things draw certain students to a college degree like social work he said, “One of the main focuses in our profession is to alleviate poverty. And we’ve had the War on Poverty since the ‘60s, and we have not made any dent in it. I think students are gravitating toward those types of challenges in terms of trying to find solutions that can create a better world.”
Encouraging children to see that being a productive member of society only works when they’re also empathetic members of society is the kind of reinforcement that will prompt them to be effective problem-solvers long after they leave your home.
Don’t put them in boxes.
One of the best qualities possessed by kids is that they don’t put themselves in boxes. Instead, oftentimes when you ask a six-year-old what he wants to be when he grows up, he’ll tell you he wants to be a professional drummer and a fireman. An astronaut and a veterinarian. A cowboy and a chef.
The problem can arise when we construct the boxes for them. The answer from a six-year-old that got a chuckle will garner raised eyebrows when it comes from a sixteen-year-old. Being a professional drummer and a fireman isn’t the norm, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
If we’re willing to ask creative questions, we should be ready for and receptive to creative answers. And there lies one of the benefits of homeschooling. There is a unique opportunity to banish anything that looks like a box.
Regarding the variety homeschooling allows for, Jill Cain notes, “It’s not only a great way to find your child’s passion, but it is an excellent way to banish school time boredom and get your kids looking forward to education every day.”
Asking different questions will yield different answers.
There’s nothing wrong with asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. We love that this question usually produces funny answers from the younger kids, and (somewhat) insightful answers from the older kids.
But thinking about alternative questions can provide a fresh level of clarity. That clarity will not only help both you and your kids understand better where they fit in the world, but it can also allow you to encourage them down a future path that will be most rewarding.
Your willingness to see them as individuals with unique gifts is the foundation with which they will also see themselves as such.