When I was a little girl, I watched a lot. And listened. Most kids do. And although my parents probably never thought about it, I also learned about work from them. Whether we realize it or not, kids are learning about work all the time from things parents and other people say. And from tone of voice. Even body language.
Things we teach our kids about work unintentionally
Most parents make a conscious effort to help their kids learn about life. But it’s hard to fully realize all the things we convey to our kids unintentionally. Sometimes even when we think we are sending good messages. And that includes what kids are learning about work from us.
If you can take a moment to go back in time and think about what you saw in your own household, I bet you’ll remember things that your parents never realized you saw. Or heard. Or just felt, almost as if the knowledge was transmitted through the air.
Your own kids are just as tuned in to things that happen in between the actual words. And they also add their own filters and interpretations to whatever they hear and see — both in the moment and as time goes on.
That last part is especially hard to keep in mind when we think we are communicating clearly. Or, when we think we are masking the truth we want to protect them from. What children receive and store is NOT always what we think we send their way.
Both good and bad things kids are learning about work
Children take in everything. Some good. Some bad. All the messages get stored inside. And get used to help formulate their views of the world — including the world of work.
That doesn’t mean that in the moment, every single opinion is solidly formed. But, as time goes on, the messages accumulate and perhaps get mixed with other things that they absorb.
And when they grow up and have jobs of their own, all those bits and pieces can influence how they view work — and how they react to new information coming at them in the present.
Some of the good messages
- A job you like can add richness to your life.
- You can feel good about your job.
- Working & earning money can give you independence.
- Do the best you can, no matter what the task.
- It feels good to accomplish things.
- You meet interesting people.
- Opportunities open up where you might not expect.
- YOU can create opportunities for yourself.
- Setting goals that you reach feels great.
- You deserve to feel good about yourself at work — even if some of it isn’t what you’d ideally choose!
Some of the not-so-good messages
Even though you may not be saying any of this on purpose (although some parents do), we often let off steam about our jobs. I know my parents did. But the kids don’t always get to hear the good stuff. Just the complaints.
And so the messages children walk away with are things like:
- Most jobs suck. Trying to fix things is a fool’s game.
- Bosses don’t appreciate you. Period!
- People you work with are annoying and do bad things.
- Companies take advantage of you & that’s just the way it is.
- Growing up means that you don’t go chasing unreal career dreams.
- If you have a job you don’t like, suck it up and bear it. Work is work.
Most of that adds up to one thing: being a victim of your circumstances. Basically, the messages that are NOT being sent are that work can be good. And that you have a right to find ways to get yourself what you deserve — even if it takes some time and effort to get there.
If you are loaded down with a view of the world where THEY have the power and you don’t, you are less likely to seek out positive changes for yourself. And you are less likely to spot opportunities when they do arise. Or create them for yourself. And some of this view is formed as early as childhood.
Is there anything parents can do about unintentional messages?
Unintentional messages happen. We are human and no way we’re going to watch each and every word and still be real people. And kids do need to feel that you are being real. But you can bring clarity through conscious efforts to share what work is really like.
Not that you hide that jobs can be annoying or worse. But then also tell stories about times when you made something good happen because of your own efforts and determination. And share the humor, as well as good stories about the people you work with.
And if you have no good stories to share or positive things to say, perhaps the very best thing you can do for your kids is to start giving yourself messages about how YOU can make things better for yourself. Remember that kids are learning about work — and life — all the time.
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