Career Path

The New Rules of Take Your Child to Work Day

Millennials were among the first generations to have a national day to visit parents’ offices. Now they’re in the parental role—and bringing their kids into a different workplace.

This week, you may find crayons strewn across desks and juice boxes interspersed with coffee cups at conference tables. Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is upon us on April 25.

These days bring back fond memories for people who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, the first generation that was able to skip school to see what their parents actually did when they left the house Monday through Friday. Now, many of those folks are parents themselves, and at a time when work looks totally different, they’re leading today’s children to have a completely different view on what it means to work. Parents answer emails on their smartphones, take calls on vacation, and work from home while the kids play in another room.

Get them as involved as possible so they can envision what it might look like for them to go to a job in the future.

But that doesn’t mean taking your kids to the office, if you still have one, isn’t important. For one thing, 81% of girls and almost 60% of boys surveyed said they will reduce their work hours when they have children of their own, according to a study conducted by the Families and Work Institute. That means many of us are sending a signal to the next generation that we’re working way too much—and/or not necessarily explaining why. Taking your child to work, then, is “an opportunity to broaden the conversation about family and work and make children's voices heard in the companies that will someday employ them,” notes the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation. If you’re among those workers participating in bringing your child to the office, here’s how you can approach it.

Make work concrete for kids.

Children understand that after their school years, they’ll join the workforce. But many don’t know what that actually means. As adults, we often shield our children from work, thinking they may not understand the intricacies of the job. “It's important to share the positive and concrete sides of work. Otherwise, how can our children envision a future for themselves involving productive work?” says Katherine Reynolds Lewis, author of The Good News About Bad Behavior.

If you take a lot of calls, let your kid answer the phone when it’s appropriate (such as a call from a colleague, instead of one from a brand-new client). Prep them for meetings with an explanation of your project, and encourage them to speak up with their ideas. Get them as involved as possible so they can envision what it might look like for them to go to a job in the future.

Expand on the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

There’s a reason why many kids say they want to grow up to be a firefighter, an astronaut, or an ice cream scooper, as one of our childhood friends famously aspired to be. Those professions have visibility in kids’ lives. So it’s up to parents to open their eyes to the extremely broad range of career options that exist for them—including nontraditional arrangements like freelance and portfolio careers, which are all the more common in the current nomad economy, where people may have four to five careers in a lifetime. “When we see our children enjoying an activity, it helps to note the connections between that activity and possible jobs,” Lewis says. “Children who love to debate and argue points of logic might become future lawyers. Those who love art and drawing might become graphic designers or architects.”

Focus the day on transparency and connection.

When parents walk out the door each morning, kids often ask, “Where are you going?” You can use the question as an opportunity to demonstrate that you aren’t just a parent, but also a worker and someone who has his or her own identity—an idea that is very foreign to children, who understandably only just see you as mom or dad. “We should speak to our children about the problems and triumphs we encounter at our jobs, and bring them into that world with us,” Lewis says. “Not only does this help them understand careers, it builds important connection between parent and child.”

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