One of the classic questions that adults ask children is: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This questioning, apparently inconsequential and naive, has more emotional charge than it might seem at first glance. Astronaut, soccer player, artist or dancer. Children’s responses to the question of their future dedication are varied, but “I don’t know” or doubt can also arise, something that is not always well accepted by adults.
“This question is asked because of one of the many inertias of our education. Many times it is a kind of automatism when you do not know what to talk about with the child or what to ask him ”, explains Tristana Suárez, psychologist and Gestalt therapist. “It is a common and easy place and, as often happens on the part of adults, without much awareness of what we are asking or what it may imply for a minor.”
In how a minor who is in the process of maturation and is not yet an adult is received, this question is influenced by several factors, such as those highlighted by Suárez: “The age of the child, his character, the tone with which he is told and the person who ask”. And this, according to the expert, is because children capture everything, not only the content of the message, but also the intention behind it and even the non-verbal language.
The two sides of the same issue
The child can receive this question about his future in two different ways: “One with pressure, especially if he is older, with the connotation of ‘make it clear now’, ‘define yourself’ or ‘why don’t you know’, which It can cause anxiety when you don’t know the answer. But it can also carry a positive and playful side: “It serves to project fantasy, imagine, dream and play as children do when they create scenarios where they can be anything. And that aspect can be interesting and useful.”
After questioning the child about his dedication or professional projection for the future, various messages are put on the table, such as what do you like? Who do you want to look like? or what do you admire? “The question itself is not bad, but it could be reformulated in another way, for example, what are you good at? Or, what dreams do you have?” advises Suárez.
For this expert, it is still a kind of mosaic, because children often change their minds depending on the moment in which they are, their personality and hobbies that can also change: “In addition, the older ones can project their frustrations on the little ones with comments like, ‘wouldn’t you like to be…?’, without forgetting the influence exerted by the pride that children detect in adults when they tell them what they want to hear”.
The importance of the answer
Focusing attention on the answer that adults offer to minors about what they want to do when they grow up is key. “At that moment, it is when the child checks if her answer is accepted or not. For this reason, it is important to motivate them to achieve their goals, no matter how crazy the idea may seem,” argues Ana Gómez, a general health psychologist specializing in the child and adolescent population.
Gómez believes that, over time, the child will adjust the expectations to his reality and that often insisting on the question of what he wants to be when he grows up is not recommended: “It can cause him to feel obliged to make a definitive decision and not allow him to be flexible, so the ideal is to encourage him to explore to discover what he is really passionate about. According to this psychologist, although in general this question is usually received with emotion by an anxious or insecure child when making decisions, it can generate uncertainty and discomfort.
A common mistake made by adults is to project professional roles perpetuated in the family onto the child with questions such as: “Are you going to be a doctor like mom?” “This limits the option to the minor, who will act to be accepted as her environment expects of him,” adds the expert. In addition, continues Gómez, the child’s response can be unexpected and surprising, such as when he says that he wants to be happy or live in peace when he grows up: “This answer is just as valid as any other and it is not convenient to redirect him to focus on a profession , as well as never invalidate what the minor comments about it”.
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