When is the right time to talk to children about career choice?

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By Erin Eagan


The question is often posed to our children: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s asked half-heartedly by adults who are expecting responses like astronaut, professional athlete or super hero. But in all seriousness, an earnest discussion on career-related topics with a child even before they reach middle school is a good idea.

Of course, no one’s asking you to crush their dreams of becoming the next Aaron Rodgers or Wonder Woman. But as they age, be aware of the fine line between encouraging them to follow their dreams and steering them toward more realistic options.


mother and daughter on park bench
When beginning these conversations, start with the basics. What are their interests? What about favorite books or TV shows? If you were to take away screen time for a few hours, what would they do to pass the time? Signing them up for different activities and clubs may help facilitate things. Maybe it’s a sport, maybe it’s Scouts or maybe it’s a youth summer camp. Encourage their involvement and see where that takes them. For older children, have them take a Career Interest Questionnaire to use as a starting point.

By starting career exploration earlier, children can give some thought to what type of jobs they might want and what the best path is for them to get there. As they get ready to enter high school, they’ll have a better idea of what their strengths/weaknesses are and where their passions truly lie. This could also serve as a blueprint for what classes to take in high school and beyond.

Beyond your guidance, schools are very involved in facilitating the discussion. Wisconsin school districts are now required to have an academic and career planning (ACP) program in place for all students entering sixth grade and beyond. Career Cruising is the online tool that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has procured for this purpose.

Career Cruising is a self-exploration and college/career software program that helps students explore and plan for school, career and life. For students in K-2, interactive games help get them excited about exploring their interests and aspirations. As they get older, they can participate in various career activities and assessments.

In high school, students can use Career Cruising to take career-related assessments, explore online career and college profiles and get information about financial aid and employment. Using the program’s database of career profiles, schools, programs, scholarships and job-search tools, they can choose a pathway that’s right for them.

Since parents play such a critical role in helping their children plan for their future, through Career Cruising, they can monitor their child’s progress throughout the entire process. The program also allows them to communicate with teachers and counselors using an integrated Parent Portal.

While it may seem a little premature to be talking about careers with your children, starting the process early on can get them on the right path, which can help avoid costly changes later on down the line when it comes to higher education.