I have a 4-year-old daughter. Yesterday, when I was changing my daughter in her PJ's to get ready for bed she started crying out of nowhere. This was very surprising because we don't get that very often with her.

When I asked what was wrong she answered: "I don't know what to be when I am older!", and the crying intensified. I picked her up and cuddled her, telling here it's going to be fine, and there is no shame in the fact that she doesn't know that, that in time it will come to her, and it's more important to be happy than to be anything else. It took me a hour to get her to calm down! She seemed scared of the fact of growing up.

Now, our daughter is not your typical daughter, she was making 2~3 word sentences when she was 1 year of age, and adding and subtracting about the time she turned 2 years old (already talking with full sentences by then). Now, her intellect is about 6~7 years of age, but her emotional needs are still those of a 4-year-old.

How can we make it clear to her there is no shame in not knowing what you want to be? Can we give her options to trigger her imagination so she will not be afraid of it. Could making her visualizing it (something she likes to do, like taking care of animals on a farm) take the fright out of the situation?

4 Answers 4


Start by explaining to her that who she is and what she does are not the same thing. Just because two people are fire fighters, for example, does not mean they are the same people. They can think and act very differently, like very different things, and generally behave very differently when they aren't working.

Once the concepts of "who you are" and "what you do" are clarified as being distinct, explain that many, many adults change "what they do" as they get older. Some people change this several times. If you or your spouse have changed careers (even if it was just part-time jobs while working your way through school), mention that. If not, perhaps there are family members or friends that have changed careers that you could cite as examples.

There's no hurry to pick what you want to do, and no one expects a 4 year old to know what they want to do (and even if a 4 year old does pick something that they want to do, it's perfectly okay for them to change their mind!).

Then tell her that you have a secret to share with her.

The secret is this: there's something that is far more important to know than "what you want to do", and that is "what you like to do". The people who are most successful in life are generally those who figure out what they like to do, and then find a way to keep doing that.

And that's what growing up is really about: figuring out what you like to do, and then figuring out ways to do what you like.

Just remind her that there's so many things to do, and she hasn't had a chance to try them all yet, so there are probably lots of things that she likes to do that she doesn't know about yet. Maybe her favorite thing in the world will be flying a plane, or traveling to distant places, or scuba diving, or solving complex math problems... it could be anything! But she won't know most of the things that she likes until she has a chance to try them, and that takes time.

  • Where is the favorite button?
    – kleineg
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 18:52

I think your daughter is simply working incomplete information -- she has analytical ability beyond her age, but the insufficient information to base her analysis on. Ask her questions -- a lot. "Why do people need to pick a career", "How long does it take to learn". This will help you understand where the knowledge gaps are so you can fill them in. Use information to help guide her analysis, when you can avoid challenging the analysis itself.

Also, it is quite common for highly gifted children to be intensely self-critical, to the point where they will perform more poorly at a given task than an average child due to their self-image of a "failure". It seems your daughter may have this trait also, and if so, I encourage you to frame her actions in a context of what effort did she give, regardless of the end result.

  • 1
    Yes, praising effort over success/failure... and avoiding the word "smart" whenever possible leads to the best result. Remember, people called "smart" often do not try for fear of failure and of looking "dumb" for trying. They also think that "smart" people do not need to work as hard, and often underestimate the time and effort it takes to learn/do things making them put tasks off and hurry through them near a deadline. People labeled "persistent" or that "try their best"... are persistent and try their best. If their best is a 4.0 through grad school or holding down a job, they try hard.
    – kleineg
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 19:05

I would first try to find out what brought this on. It could be something trivial, like the teacher telling kids they'll talk about what they want to be, and other kids immediately chiming in with: "a firefighter! a doctor! an astronaut!" In other words, try to find out if the fear is really a deep anxiety about life in general, or a small anxiety about not knowing an answer to a question.

The question about a future occupation is a complex one, and you can help her come up with an answer. I would ask her what her friends want to be, and then I'd try to see if she likes some of those things better than others. If you compare alternatives two by two ("do you like doctor better than ballerina?"), it's not so difficult for her to assess the options, and you can get a sense of an emerging pattern of her likes and dislikes. Then you can say something like: "Well, it looks like you like being active, you like to create art and to read. Can you think of any professions where you would get to do some of this stuff?" You can guide her to a pool of potential answers, until she picks a few she might like. But you can finish the conversation by saying that some people get to be what they wanted at age 4, but a lot of them change their mind while growing up. That way, she'll know that her choice isn't binding, i.e. that it's just a way to express current preferences.

If, at the end of all this, she still doesn't have a preference, then tell her this is also OK. It means she likes to be exactly what she is right now: a little girl!


If she's blessed with advanced intellect, she'll be also blessed with wits to deal with any issue! That's what I think. Many kids are advanced but then over the period of time, they become otherwise okay.

She's intelligent and mature as you say and thus I believe that she will take it positively if you make her understand the system that everything happens as its time comes and you'll become what you want for sure.

Now her intellect is about 6~7 years of age, but her emotional needs are still those of a 4 year old - this clearly means that she has advanced brain but little heart! So, adding a little emotion, you can convey the truth - something like she's an apple of your eye and whatever she becomes, she'll be the best. Stop worrying about the future thing and start living today. That's what great people have preached and taught to us.

If she develops even greater intellect, it's good. Take it as a positive sign and let her take giant leaps and bounds in her career right from that tender age. These days, things move much faster than how they were 20 years back. To become a billionaire, it took ages then, and today, Mark Zuckerberg, Justin and others are ruling the world. Maybe, your kid is one of those gems-to-be in the future!

  • 1
    While I agree with the basic premise I'd like to point out that dealing with emotion is hard for children, it is hard on adults too but at least we can usually tell which emotion we are feeling and have a good sense as to why, where as children would not know they are "mad" or be able to take a step back, they would only be reacting to what they are feeling and may also be scared because they feel out of control. A child can be ahead of the intellectual development of their peers but average or behind emotionally. Being far ahead in smarts can also be lonely, causing a disconnect with peers.
    – kleineg
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 18:58

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