How to support your child with their career decisions
Your child’s next career steps - you know it’s something they’re worried about but the minute you raise the subject, you’re met with an unpleasant response. This is a common concern that parents express to me.
You may have a clear, open relationship with your child where they are happy to open up to you about their concerns and feelings. That’s great, but not everyone has that luxury.
As a parent of two teenagers myself, I know how difficult it can be. However, as a career coach I do have a slight advantage in that they actually believe (for now) that I do know something about career choice, if nothing else!
The key thing is to avoid telling them what to do. Instead, ask them open questions that will enable them to come up with their own answers and take ownership of the situation. After all, that’s what career management is all about. It’s a vital lesson to learn early.
So here are some questions that you can cunningly drop into conversation whilst you’re in the car with your loved one (a car conversation is always good - there’s no need for uncomfortable eye contact. Plus there’s no escape!).
1. How concerned are you about not knowing what to do, on a scale of 1-10?
This question is useful to help you both quantify where they are at emotionally.
Avoid the shocked facial expression if they say anything less than five, even if you know application deadlines are this month. They’re unlikely to open up if your jaw drops to the floor.
2. When do you think you need to make a final decision by?
If they don’t know the answer to the above questions, ask:
3. Who will you speak to in order to get the answers?
Note the use of the word ‘will’ rather than ‘can’. It assumes that something will be done rather than could be done. It could also be the first point on their mental action plan.
4. What will happen if you don’t make a decision by then?
An awareness of the consequences of inactivity can spark them into action. We’re often motivated by desperation.
5. What are your options?
You may not know the answer yourself, but the key thing is to get them thinking. However, if they don’t know the answer, you could follow up with the following default question:
6. Who would know what your ‘next step’ options are?
The action plan will now start to take shape.
7. What can we do to find out more about these options? Answers will include open days, websites, talking to teachers etc.
Note the use of the word ‘we’ rather than ‘you’. Although they need to take responsibility for their own career decisions, they’ll value your support (rather than dictatorship) even if they don’t say so.
8. What are the pros and cons of these options?
Now it's time to evaluate.
9. Which option appeals to you most?
10. Who else can help you make your mind up?
Answers could include teachers, careers advisers, college/university admissions staff, older siblings, friends in older year groups etc. Making good career decisions is all about making the most of your local ‘community’.
What do you need to do next and by when?
Again, this style of questioning prompts the child to take immediate action. Ideally there needs to be something they can do fairly imminently, otherwise they’ll be tempted to procrastinate.
Warning - don’t attempt to ask too many of these questions in one go. Of course, it depends on the type of relationship you have with your child, but I’d be surprised if you get through the whole lot before they storm out, unless you’re in said car!
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About Mark Anderson
Mark Anderson is a career coach who works one-to-one with adults and young people to help them find their purpose and decide on the right career path for them.