Going Beyond “What Do You Want to Be?”

How many times have you been at a back-to-school event or a family reunion and someone asks your child, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?”

In many cases, the child responds back, “Firefighter, Teacher, Doctor, Athlete,” and then the conversation ends. While asking a child what they want to do when they grow up is a great question, how can we go deeper with our kids to help be an advocate for their future?

Instead of asking, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” perhaps try some of these questions:

Tell me about your favorite activity.

We want to raise children who not only are productive members of society, but are also passionate, happy, and healthy! If your child likes building things with Legos, start a conversation about what an Engineer does. If they note that they enjoy taking care of their pets, talk with them about what a Vet Tech does every day! Do they like to be outside? Talk with them about what a Recreation Specialist or Fish/Wildlife Biologist may do during the day!  Introduce them to careers they may have never heard or thought about.

Tell me about something you are really good at.

Strengths are an important part of career exploration. Once identified, encourage your student to continue to enhance their strengths. They may volunteer in their community or search for an internship in high school that can build on these strengths. It can sometimes be a difficult conversation to have with a child if their “strengths” don’t match their passion at the time. The good news is that just as we strengthen parts of our body through exercise, we can also strengthen skills and areas of knowledge through training, reading, and practice.  Encourage your child to explore ways to gain strength in a certain area of interest.

What would be important to you in a future career?

Exploring a child’s values can also be important. What is most motivating to them?  Is it achievement, recognition, helping others, job security, or creativity? Talking about values can open up different career ideas that they may not have thought about before.

Keep the conversation going!

To continue this conversation with your child, a great resource is www.floridashines.org. Florida Shines was created to help Florida students explore careers, colleges and universities, scholarship opportunities, and more. Students can create an account, take interest inventories, rank their work values, and explore different careers. With engaging videos and graphics, students can learn what education level, income, and job growth is associated with upcoming careers!

So, the next time you are at a family reunion and see your nephew, instead of asking, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” use one of the above examples to start an important conversation about careers that may impact his future in a big way!

Anne FlennerAnne Flenner, School Counselor, has worked to meet the academic, social, personal, and professional needs of FLVS students since 2011. Previously a school counselor in Alachua County, she has received several awards and serves on multiple state counseling boards and committees. She has a Master's degree in Counselor Education from UF. Anne loves working with student athletes, supporting college and career readiness, and focusing on student mental health and wellness.

2 comments on “Going Beyond “What Do You Want to Be?”

  1. Suzan Kurdak

    A great reminder on how open-ended questions can lead to better conversations and connections! In addition to exploring thoughts on careers, can be applied to networking and other settings.

  2. Sure

    Yeah, I always hated questions like that! I am always like (in my head) you already know, I have only told you the answer 50 million times! (about the “what do you want to be when you grow up”)


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