The choices children consider for career paths are related to their interests AND their belief that they can perform well in activities related to them. Children need their parents to expose them to a wide variety of areas so that they have the opportunity to develop interests. They also need their parents to support and reinforce their pursuits so that they stick to their efforts and develop confidence that they will be able to pursue these interest areas successfully.
How can I help my child identify interests?
It is important that your children learn to identify their interests and understand why their interests are important to their future. You are in the position to observe your children at play and, at a very early age, they will show their interests to you. You can talk to your children about the interests you observe. Ask:
- What do you like about doing that activity?
- Are there other activities like it that you would like to try?
- Do you know any people (other children or adults) with a similar interest? What other activities do they like to do? If an adult, what kind of work do they do and does their interest play a part in it?
You can also help your child identify interests that you have not directly observed. Ask:
- What is your favorite school subject?
- What activities outside of school do you enjoy the most?
- What hobbies do you have or would you like to have?
- What do you like to do with friends?
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- What types of books interest you the most?
Help your child explain what aspects of these activities they like and why they think they like them. Assist your child to develop the language skills to talk about their interests now and in the future.
What about formal interest assessments?
Many middle and high schools offer interest assessments to their students. Interest assessments measure what your children know about their interests. If they have not tried an activity, they will not know if they like it and will typically rate that activity as of low or unknown interest. If your children use an assessment instrument, discuss with them which of the activities they were not familiar with and if they would like to try any of them.
Keep in mind:
- Interest assessments are only a first step in career exploration. They are not meant to tell your children what they should do or would be good at doing or force your children into a particular career path.
- There are no right or wrong answers on an interest assessment.
- Your children should take more than one type of assessment over the course of middle and high school. Each assessment looks at personal characteristics differently. You can look for similarities across the results.
- Your children's interests may change as they get older and have more experiences. Your children can take an interest assessment more than once to guide their career exploration.
What if my child does not seem to have any interests?
Your children do have interests. Pay attention to:
- the activities your children like;
- the books your children read;
- the television shows your children watch;
- the Web sites your children visit; and
- the way your children spends their free time.
Discuss what your children like or dislike about each activity.
Expose your children to new activities. Take them to:
- art galleries
- musical and theatrical performances
- community and sporting events
Let your children try extracurricular activities like:
- art classes
- computer classes
- a community service group
- a sports team
Encourage your children to start collections and help them decide what will be in that collection.
After identifying interests, what is next?
Tie interests to occupations, careers paths, and school subjects. For example, an interest in the outdoors could lead to careers ranging from gardening to oceanography, or an interest in helping people could lead to careers from teaching to medicine. If your children have a list of possible careers from interest assessments, make sure they consider careers related to those on the list as well. For example, if computer programmer is on the list, your child could also explore web development, video game development, networking, and computer support.
How can I nurture my child's interests?
You can encourage your children to do things that reflect their interests. This builds skills in and knowledge about the area. It expands their understanding of the field, possibly leading to other, new interests. It also fosters self-confidence about pursuing that interest area in the future. For example:
- A child who
likes animals could:
- Join a 4-H club
- Volunteer at a local veterinary clinic or humane society
- Care for a neighbor's pets
- A child who likes art could:
- Design a personal website
- Make birthday or holiday cards for friends or relatives
- Create graphics for the school newsletter
- A child who likes to help people could:
- Be a summer camp counselor
- Assist at a day care center
- Teach a younger child to read
- A child who likes to build or repair things could:
- Build a radio or computer from a kit
- Take apart an old appliance and put it back together
- Design and build a birdhouse
- A child who likes sports could:
- Play on a sports team
- Assist a coach
- Umpire or referee community games