How can parents best prepare their children for the difficult task of choosing a profession, and dealing with all of the (frequently tedious) steps involved in making that career happen?

The typical jobs most children will wind up having will set them up for a lifetime of a fixed schedule, with limited recreation time and opportunities. Discovering this can be quite a shock to people, as introduction to professional life can be disorientating, and can cause some people to falter and fail due to not being adequately prepared for the commitment and discipline required.

Even worse, choosing poorly, or inadequate preparation, can result in winding up in a career that they do not enjoy, and will therefore spend the majority of their waking hours unhappily working in jobs that are performed only out of necessity.

How do you help your children prepare?

  • 4
    I'm 38. I'm still trying to figure out how to be an adult. Honestly, I think being an adult sucks. My advice to any kid is to be a kid as long as you can. You only have one life. Live on your terms (while obviously respecting everyone else's).
    – DA01
    Dec 11 '11 at 21:51
  • Isn't the answer to this question "all of parenting" and therefore rather too broad?
    – mattdm
    Dec 26 '16 at 17:37

10 Answers 10


I'm sorry, but if you really spent your childhood in happy ignorance until one day you were told "okay, now pick the job you'll do for the rest of your life," your parents did you a horrible disservice.

One of the goals of parenting should be to help your child or children figure out what it is they like doing, and guide them into identifying how to make a career out of it.

Certainly not everyone succeeds in making a career of what they like to do, but other skills taught by good parenting should help teach how to make the most of whatever the situation is, as well as how to go about improving things when things aren't working out the way you want them.

The lessons of parenting should not be "once you become an adult, you'll be miserably and stuck spending most of your time doing stuff you hate for the rest of your life.". That's right up there with "set your sights low, so you'll have less chance of failure" and "if you never try anything, at least you'll never be disappointed by failure" as some of the worst possible advice a parent can give.

  • Indeed they did. And i have heard similar stories from other people too, so i am not alone, gladly. I think this question should be renamed to "How to prevent your child from becoming a loser?" or something. My parents have been stuck with their crappy jobs for their whole life, they chose one job and sticked with it, they hate their jobs too, they are just stuck in their daily rhythm and became zombies who only wait for the weekends so they can finally feel not-bad, thats what i fear of becoming too. And its not just my parents, pretty much everyone i know are like that.
    – perspapa
    Dec 11 '11 at 14:09
  • You don't have to be stuck like that. One of the problems with the real world is that we as adults are assailed from all directions with responsibilities. this endless rain makes you feel like you don't have any choice when you absolutely do. ANYONE can pickup and GTFO within 30-60 days. People don't want to admit that it's not the responsibilities that are keeping them, but that they choose to stay for a stack of reasons. Once you realise that, you'll figure out that it's not so hard to get up and go at the drop of a hat.
    – monsto
    Jan 4 '12 at 19:43
  • @monsto I presume you were addressing perspapa. If you start your comment with @*username*, that user will get a notification. If you don't address the specific user, the person who posted the question or answer you commented on gets the notification instead (in this case, I got the notification instead of perspapa).
    – user420
    Jan 4 '12 at 19:57

Not really an answer to this because Boefett answered this quite well, however, if you are so miserable, find a new career!

As much as there are days work and being an adult is difficult and not all fun and games, both myself and my husband work in fields that we enjoy greatly. It will be our goal to help our daughter to find a career that she will enjoy. We spend a great deal of our adult life at work and we should find a way to enjoy that time. Of course, a great deal of preparing children for adulthood is providing them with age appropriate levels of responsibility that increase as their age increases.

As a very small child parents should be requiring their children to do tasks like pickup their toys and clothes. They should have them helping with small tasks and gradually increase these tasks. A toddler can clear their plate to the sink, sweep the floor (usually easier with a smaller broom), dust, etc. As the child ages, the tasks that can be asked of the child can be increased.

These tasks should be presented to the child as responsibilities that are theirs and part of being a member of a family. It is further essential that parents participate in these activities with the child reinforcing the importance of the tasks. It is a mistake to think childhood should be all fun and games with no responsibility.

Childhood needs to be a balance between play and appropriate responsibility - it is supposed to be teaching children to be adults. Most play is purposeful - figuring out how things work, learning, and responsibilities like picking up can also be like a game to them as well.

By no means am I advocating taking the fun out of childhood, but making responsibilities part of childhood too.

  • +1 for just the last sentence. You might want to put more emphasis on that part. Dec 11 '11 at 11:56
  • 1
    @perspapa Many homeless people suffer from mental health issues. No one said it was easy to find a career you like. On the contrary: it takes hard work and a lot of preparation (not least of which is figuring out what it is you'd like to do). This is why ideally the process should start early, while still a child. You can still make changes as an adult, though.
    – user420
    Dec 11 '11 at 14:09

As other people have said, it sounds like your parents did you a disservice by not preparing you correctly. But telling a child that being an adult sucks is just as much of a disservice. Life doesn't have to go downhill from age 18!

The transition from childhood to adulthood involves gaining responsibilities, but also involves gaining many freedoms. I think the right way to approach growing up is (as @Erin mentioned briefly) giving them a little bit of both freedom and responsibility as they grow older.

My friend's parents took this literally, and every year my friend would gain a chore, and was allowed to do something that was forbidden last year. You don't have to be as blatant as that. Maybe you want to restrict the movies/music your kid listens to when he's younger, but once he gets to a certain age, you can let him get his own music (freedom) with money he has earned (responsibility).

As far as how to guide them into a career, I would suggest letting them work in a variety of small jobs as a teenager. My parents wanted me to focus on school, and I kind of regret not having a part-time job. Working at McDonalds might not inspire them to stay in fast food, but it might teach them that they enjoy customer service. Tutoring or babysitting can let them know if they have the patience to teach.


My daughter is one of the best teachers in life that I've had. She's observant and inquisitive on a very simple, but deeply provocative level. She does a really good job of pointing out that some choice I made long ago in life caused me to zig, when I should have zagged.

Around this time last year, I was in the middle of what I feel was the worst job I've ever had in my life. In my teen years, I cleaned grease out of buckets at fast food joints, to give you some perspective.

I wasn't just working dawn to dusk, I was working dawn to dawn. The stress coming from knowing that if I didn't do some ridiculously impossible thing in an unreasonable amount of time my job would go away was affecting my health. I became withdrawn, and turned into someone I can only describe as not me.

And then my kid trapped me in a line of questioning that was so simple and so beautifully sensible that I realized a terrible thing had happened; I had become what I promised myself I would not become, and I made immediate changes. I'm not going to go into detail about what she asked, That's all mine and just too special to share. I'm sure every parent reading this has a pretty good idea.

The single best way you can prepare your child for the adult world is to show them that adults sometimes do well by listening to kids. Either the kid they have, or the kid they used to be. One of the worst things I can imagine is my daughter stuck in the situation I was in, which is why I'm glad she feels a piece of ownership regarding me getting out of mine.


The answer to your question "How should a child be prepared for adulthood?" is not telling the child how his life will look like. We have no clue how our children life will be. They will make their life, not us. It may not look like mine or yours.

To prepare a child for adulthood, we provide the foundations for success. The rest is their responsibility. I suggest the following:

  1. Protect the child's physical health and teach him/her how to take care of their health.

  2. Guard their mental health.

  3. Build the child's character to be able to interact with the society in a manner that opens doors.

  4. Enrich the child's general knowledge and awareness of the surrounding world.

  5. Give the child opportunities to cooperate with peers and lead others to get things done (leadership).

  6. Expose the child to the different professions. Visiting work places and talking to people about their jobs. This will help them choose a career when the time comes.

Fortunately, most of the above is provided by schools. However, it is the responsibility of the parent to ensure that these are provided.


I don't think you should be afraid of this conversation at all. It's an opportunity to teach them something important.

Kids should learn from a very young age that:

  1. We all have responsibilities that aren't fun, and there's nothing wrong with that.

  2. It's important to try lots of new things all the time, because you never know what you might turn out to like or have natural skills for. Hopefully in the process, they will discover a vocation that they enjoy, as well as avocations that make them happy even at times that their work is unsatisfying.

  3. IMPORTANT -- The more education you get, the higher the chance you will end up doing something for most of your life that you find stimulating, aligned to your interests, and that pays enough that you have some free time, as well as increasing your ability to change jobs and careers if you find yourself in an unsatisfying situation.

  4. It's helpful to learn financial literacy starting at a young age, so that as an adult they are handling money and making decisions that allow them to have enough savings to be able to change jobs or careers when then need to, go back to school and learn something new, or just take a break.

If they sit on their rumps watching TV, aren't motivated to learn much in school, don't try new things to discover their interests, and don't talk about money at home (with people who are literate about it), then yes, they may end up in very hard-working unsatisfying jobs their whole life. But it doesn't have to be that way.


Not being funny, but being dumped on like you say is the same as an adolescent girl having her first period without being told it was coming. It's a jarring shock that you have to deal with forevermore without having any clue that it was coming.

I'm a firm believer that there should be parenting licenses. Have a baby sure, but you're not allowed to be a parent until you pass the test. (Yes, I know it will never happen.) Your parents would have failed that test.

Here's how a child should be prepared for adulthood. It is my answer and it is absolutely how. All other how's are not how.

Well, maybe not. Because my method is similar to what other people have said here: serial preparation. I think the difference tho is that I have absolute confirmation that my method works . . . i have a 20 yo that has successfully made the transition, and i have school-agers that are experiencing what i told him when he was their age.

For lack of a better phrase, it's the "frog on a hotplate" method. You've essentially got from age 4-18 to prepare them for it. Spread it out and there's no culture shock at the end. Additionally, they'll be happy about it because they will have seen years of work on a number of goals finally come together. After 18 yrs of slowly turning up the heat, they're cooked.

As the parent, you have to have a long term mentality. Yes there are day to day and week to week things, but you have to be prepared, over the years, to advance the kid from one thing to the next based on who they are.

Now that one of my daughters is 10, i'm starting to explain the series of events in young life and where they lead... lets take homework for example...

  • in 1st grade, homework is not about the lesson, it's about tangible responsibility. keeping the folder in the backpack and getting it to and from home.
  • in 3rd grade, it's not about the lesson, it's about the work responsibility. It's more about getting the work done than learning the lesson.
  • in middle school, it's not about the lesson, it's about the personal responsibility. Taking it upon yourself to do the work and turn it in.
  • in high school, it's about the lesson . . . but it's the culmination of years of conditioning to develop study habits. in earlier grades, you always had 2nd, 3rd, 4th chances to do the homework. In HS, if you don't turn it in, the teacher doesn't care. they have 300 students a day. You're a number. If you come up to them "what can i do to get my grade up" they'll look you up on the database and say "turn your homework in."
  • in college, it's about the lesson. without the previous 10-12 years establishing study habits, you won't be able to learn the material.
  • in the workplace . . . Homework -> Study Habits -> Work Ethic.

Childhood is rife with these kinds of series. up to a certain age, they don't need to know about it. but at the point where they can comprehend such a grand plan, they need to be told and they need to understand that at some point it's on them to make decisions. at 6, their homework is my problem. at 16 it's their problem. Why? "Because if you'd been doing your homework from the beginning, instead of lying about doing it so you could do whatever else, you wouldnt be having such a motivation problem doing it now." (Sound like the voice of experience? LOL)

Nobody ever said jacks**t to me about post-hs life until I was a Jr in hs. I hadn't been thinking about it and I certainly hadn't planned for it. That sucked. But my kids are different, at 4-5 we start working on age-appropriate tasks that lead to other things down the line. At 10-12, I started mentioning graduation because like it or not, for a 10yo it's a goal. It's inevitable. at 13-14, we're spending HS honing those skills and learning about the real world . . . ex: first job, save money, get a car, party in your car as a hs senior, drive to uni, upgrade job, upgrade car, graduate uni, drive 2nd car to first day at work. of course that's the perfect world, but whos to say you shouldn't try?

Bottom line: the kid needs to be told, in chunks, as appropriate, over the span of years, the things that will be expected of them when they are to enter the real world.


Don't tell your child "they will have to do a job they will hate." Not because it's "protecting their innocence" or whatever, but because it isn't true.

There are plenty of jobs out there, at all types of skill levels. You have to learn to make your job enjoyable to you, or to find one that is -- and that of course, is beyond the scope of this website.

But turn the child onto reality. See the janitor? He's doing that job every day. Why? He chose it. The shopkeep? She is doing that job every day.

The man in the suit? He's doing that job every day. The president? He's doing that job every day. Usher? He's doing that job every day.

SO that's the reality. People have different jobs. Some people love their jobs. Some people don't.

You have to take steps towards the job you want from an early age. So, if you want to be an engineer, start being really sharp with maths (like no less than 98% on ANYTHING, and do all the practice problems twice to get that), and start building things out of popsicle sticks and lego.


Children, especially young ones should be able to live in happiness for as long as possible, why ruin their ignorance at a young age?

As children get older ask them what they want to be when they grow up. They will probably change their minds many times (although my 3 year old has wanted to be a lion for about a year now, we did tell him he will not be an animal when he grows up but he is sticking to it-why should I ruin his fantasy?). This question and thinking about what they want to be will get them started on the road of knowing they will have to have a job when they grow up.

There is no reason why their job has to make them miserable!!! Even when I am frustrated with my job I try to let my kids know that over all I am happy with what I am doing.

Focus what the child is good at and encourage them in that, if they continue to enjoy that activity in casual conversation talk about job in that field to give them an idea of what a good job for them would be.

I am very sad that your childhood and job were/are not good. Is it possible that where you are from had something to do with that? Maybe here in America it will be easier for your children (when you have them) to adapt to having a job, as I find that middle school and high school more than prepares students for this eventuality.

  • My parents encouraged me in the one thing i was good at, but i grew out of it and lost interest in time. They never talked about jobs in that area, though, i wouldnt have wanted to be in that job, it just wasnt enough. I think i have too big dreams and thats why i dont want to do anything because i can never do what i dream of. I think encouraging is a big deal; i have one interest at the moment,but nobody is encouraging me, which stalls me in starting business in that area. Its hard to motivate yourself all alone.
    – perspapa
    Dec 13 '11 at 23:44
  • Getting social would be a good tip, but its hard to start without any interest in it. My parents tried that many times, but i have always been afraid of people for some reason. Maybe its just genes, and sometimes there just isnt anything a parent can do about it.
    – perspapa
    Dec 13 '11 at 23:46

Instead of a specific career, it is much more important to teach them all the stuff school doesn't teach:

  • That lifelong learning can be fun
  • That it's pretty important to give your life a purpose and meaning
  • That one should have personal written goals and mission statements
  • How important it is to be an excellent communicator
  • How people's minds work
  • Project management, so you reach the goals you set
  • Consistency and the value of delayed gratification
  • How amazingly enjoyable it is to be light, strong and flexible
  • That it's good to know names like Sir Ken Robinson, Steven Covey, Anthony Robbins, Betty Edwards and Jay Abraham.
  • that money gets too important whenever it's missing
  • that virtues are not obsolete

Stuff like that.

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