As a school counselor, I commonly hear from parents who want to know how they can help their child explore career interests. Although talking to adolescent children can be challenging, conversations about turning their passions into a career path can be great fun, build your relationship and lead to clear goals. . In my experience as a mom and school counselor, I’ve discovered a practical and supportive approach to career planning that works across the stages of development.

1.       Listen.

It’s the most important thing. Really listen with an open mind and supportive words. It can be hard, I know! When my oldest son was a senior he declared his college major “exploratory art” so I had to bite my tongue and learn to listen again.

2.       Encourage self awareness.

Careers should match a person’s interest, skills, and abilities. Self-assessments are a terrific tool to uncover preferences and get the conversation started. What subjects does your child like? What activities could they do forever? What is there passion? Taking a validated assessment tool, such as Holland’s Code (available via Career One Stop) or Myers & Briggs in a career class, are great ways to learn more. Also, Career One Stop, sponsored by the U. S. Department of Labor, is a comprehensive career site that includes free self-assessment and career exploration tools.

3.       Help them explore.

Students need to learn about a wide range of careers that may fit them. Once they have completed an assessment, it is great to explore as many opportunities as possible. Whatever piques their interest. Together, read career guides, search career websites, and explore opportunities to learn more. Kids will “try on” many careers before settling on a few, it’s a refining process where they compare their ideas about themselves with what they learn about a career.

4.       Ask questions.

As your child shares their interests remember to listen supportively and ask prompting, open-ended questions. This develops ownership of their future as well as basic problem solving skills. For example:

  • What do you think life would be like as a…?
  • What intrigues you the most about this field?
  • How do you think we could learn more?

5.       Provide support.

Encourage your child to learn more. There are so many ways to support your child’s career aspirations. Integrate their interests with enrichment activities, books you read, summer vacations, and volunteer work. It genuinely helps your child’s career exploration process, but perhaps even more importantly it shows you are genuinely interested in their interests. Career or industry fairs through your child’s school or nearby colleges or companies geared to your students age are also a great way to explore, such as K12’s Connect to Careers Day The annual event is part of the K12 high school program’s college and career support and workshops.

You do not have to be a career expert to help your child with career planning. Career development is a lifelong process of preparing children to make good decisions. With appropriate guidance, students are better prepared to make informed decisions about their career and college.

Your child will change their mind, and the most important thing you can do is to listen without judgment and make it ok for them to explore other paths. Your goal is to prepare your child for the right career, not just any old career. So continue to listen, encourage, and support your child to discover their own unique path.

 Helpful books to consider:

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About The Author

Laurel Barrette

Laurel Barrette is the Director of School Counseling Programs with K12. She has worked as a certified teacher and counselor in virtual and brick and mortar settings at the middle and high school level sin CA, AZ, and VA. In addition, she has worked in residential treatment with at risk adolescents. Barrette has presented nationally on virtual school counseling and bullying and works with K12 schools across the U.S. on program development. She's also the mother of three boys, ranging in age from elementary school to college.