“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Many people would remember being asked this question as a young child. We were encouraged to dream big! Some would want to be a teacher, doctor or scientist. Others wanted to be a zoo keeper, firefighter, race car driver, musician, astronaut, Olympic champion… and the list goes on.

“At primary school level, some children may not be able to tell you what they want to be yet, due to their age,” said Ms Esther Tan, a Senior Specialist with the Guidance Branch of the Ministry of Education. She was speaking at a seminar, “What Bosses Want”, organised by COMPASS (COMmunity and PArents in Support of Schools).

So how can parents help children grow up to lead meaningful and successful lives? Dictating their career path is certainly not the way to go. Ms Tan shares her expertise with us, on how to observe and guide children on their path of self-discovery!

1. Observe your child

Ms Tan shared that research has shown that observing children at a young age can be useful in understanding their personalities, interests and strengths. Each child is unique and special. For example, some children are very observant and like discovering new things. Others may be interested in planning and organising, or may have excellent coordination skills.

Look out for what excites them and what they like to do in their free time. By taking pride in their natural abilities and encouraging them to pursue their interests, we would be taking an important step in equipping them with skills that can be applied in their lives, and not just their future careers.

2. Explore the world together

Many parents are also busy working adults, but when spending time together, parents can take the opportunity to open their children’s eyes to the world around them. Encourage them to be curious about their environment. It could be during a simple trip to a park nearby, shopping together in a mall or even while waiting for the bus or train!

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One suggestion given by Ms Tan was to point out the people around them discreetly and explain what they are doing. For example, if at a park, talk about landscape artists, plant doctors, cleaners and other people involved in keeping the place beautiful for the public. If an opportunity arises, children can also shadow their parents at work.

3. Conduct reality checks

As children pursue their interests and experience a wider range of activities, observe and review their behaviour. Help them to understand themselves better and grow along with them. Nothing is set in stone yet when they are still young. Are they still passionate about that hobby? Have they found new areas of interest? Have they noticed any new skills and strengths in themselves? Do people affirm their efforts and abilities?

Sometimes, parents may not know much about the topic that their child is interested in or may find it hard to relate to it. Ms Tan suggests setting up a network of friends and relatives who have this insight, so that the child can have others to turn to as well. This support network can also affirm their strengths and encourage the child in their journey of discovery.

4. Motivate the child to take ownership of his learning

Parents can stimulate a child’s interest and support their development and growth. But at the end of the day, children have to be self-motivated in learning about themselves and take their own initiative rather than being pushed or nagged at constantly to do so. Parents would do well to run alongside them in this journey and guide them as they learn to make decisions for themselves.

In our fast-paced environment today, it is difficult to anticipate what the world will be like when our children grow up. But by cultivating their strengths and building their character, we prepare them to be confident to face the future.

What else do you think parents can do to prepare their children for the future? Post a comment to share your thoughts with us!

This article is reproduced with permission from the Ministry of Education, Singapore. Go to Schoolbag.sg for more education news and features.

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