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How to help children make career choices

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Create a parent-child relationship. PHOTO/SHUTTERSTOCK 

Shawn is in O-Level, he feels and thinks he can be a fashion designer. That is what he is passionate about and wants to pursue without wasting his time and energy on what he calls “non-profitable subjects”.  His parents, both medical doctors, are flustered at their son’s career choice but want to guide him.

“He is our eldest and only boy child of three children. We do not approve of his career choice, but we love him and want to help him make the best choice. Regardless of the choices he makes, we are confident that what we invested in him can take him through life,” his mother Janet says.  

John and Janet’s heart for their son, Shawn, is the right one to have for a parent. Some parents, however, lose it when it comes to this matter they frustrate themselves and their children.

Simon Peter Kaweesi, founder and careers coach of The Student Hub at Kanjokya House, Kamwokya in Kampala, says, “It is common to hear children complain about their parents forcing them to do courses or subjects they have no passion or interest in. As a result, you end up with unfulfilled individuals who just keep up appearances but add no real value to the work they do.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a career is “an occupation undertaken for a significant period in a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.” 

And, career choices are a process through which a person, in this case a child, chooses a career path which can involve choices regarding education and training for a given career. 
Many people usually help children make career choices (from schoolteachers to shamba boys) but parents are often neglected or do not know the invaluable contribution they would make in their child’s life if they did. This article will help parents know how they can help their children make right career choices.  
Create a strong parent-child relationship
You cannot guide your child unless you have a good relationship with them. In this space, you can discuss with your child the expectations you set for their education, career, and life and the opportunities you can provide for them to learn and develop as well as listen to them concerning their wishes and the reasons behind those choices.   

Encourage to explore
Foster the discovery of their self-awareness: Help them understand their personalities, values, skills, and ambitions and align their career choices with their personal goals, interests, passions, and strengths to better understand who they are and what they enjoy and excel at.

Remember, every child is different, so what you recommend for one may not necessarily be the same for another. Most teenagers are at the stage of career exploration and are discovering the subjects they love and the ones they don’t, as well as gaining information about different careers. It is important that as a parent you facilitate their discovery phase by taking them to different university open days and attend career symposiums so they can make informed career choices. 

Provide continuous career guidance
Offer advice, information, and insights about different career paths and educational options so they can weigh the pros and cons of different choices. Also, consider future opportunities, and make informed decisions but do not dictate their decision-making process. Allow them to make their preferred choices so they can own them even when you are not around anymore. Look at yourself as a coach; a coach guides their team, but does not get into the field to play the game. If you are unable to, then find a trusted career counsellor who can speak with your child.    

Motivate your child
When they make a career choice, be the first to support them. Be their cheerleader. If it is a dream that requires capital injection, be the first to support them financially if you can. This is what Michael and Maureen did for their daughter, Marjorie, “She loved reading a lot and writing from an early age. We could see it in her so we instilled in her an attitude of self-belief by being positive and never critical – as a parent your words will have the biggest effect on your child. We helped her write and publish her first book when she was in Senior Four vacation. It cost us a bit of money that we borrowed. She has gone on to become a writer and sustains herself by that craft.” Motivating means being there. 

Anita Muhairwe Malinga, a careers coach and counsellor at Shine Leadership International and author of the Campus Challenge, advises parents, “In my time as an admissions director at one of the universities in Kampala, I recall some students would change their courses twice or even thrice in the first two semesters at University. You cannot blame them. Some parents, however, would never know what their child would be doing only waiting to pay tuition. These are parents who would be shocked when the child is graduating and they pursued another course that a parent did know about.”   

Be exemplary 
Set a good example (personally and professionally) for your child by the attitudes, views, and values you adopt and express. If you are a teacher but a lazy bone, your child may be watching you and never want to be anything like you. If you are a lying clergyman or politician, your child may not want to pursue that career because of what they see you do or say. 

For instance, Agatha became a doctor because of her father’s example. 
“I used to watch him care for the sick and hurting without feeling sorry for himself. He was professional, rendering all the care he could with all his strength. He used to return home late night, exhausted and hungry but fulfilled. He never complained. One of those evenings as he sat down for tea, I asked him what his motivation was and he told me it was to serve humanity. I have never forgotten that. When it came to choosing what I wanted to be, I settled for medicine.”

Therefore, parents need to be involved in guiding their children towards wise career paths and the above ways are some, not always.    

As a parent, be intentional in building networks. You never know your children might need them when it comes to making career choices. You may not talk and inspire your child in a field where you are not a practitioner, but connecting them to people in your networks that align with their career interests goes a long way in helping them choose a career path. If your child, for instance, wants to become a civil engineer, look for a civil engineer in your network who can talk to them.