It’s never too early to help your child plan for the future. But lest you get the wrong idea, I’m NOT talking about high-pressure, high-stakes approaches akin to Tiger-Momming. There are plenty of other ways that parents can help prepare their children to be capable adults. Adults who are able to make important decisions about their life goals and plans, like what school (if any!) to attend when they graduate from high school.
But easier said than done – right? Actually, there are plenty of practical steps that parents can take to lay the groundwork for their children’s future adulthood. (Here’s another hint: these steps don’t look much like helicopter parenting, either. Not sure what I mean, or think that’s definitely not you? See if you recognize yourself in this checklist.)
Ready to learn how to support your child’s growth and development, so that when the time comes, they’re ready to make the big decisions about their future? Then read on!
This is a collaboration post. However, please know I stand behind everything written here, and only include links to products/services/resources I’m willing to recommend personally.
How To Help Your Child Plan For The Future
1. Let Them Fail, Early And Often
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Kids need to make mistakes. The earlier, the better. There’s the old saying, we learn more from our failures than our successes. Sheltering your child from negative consequences only teaches them to be risk-averse, and paralyzes them when the time comes to make the bigger decisions. Without practice in deciding things for themselves, they have no idea where to start.
So let them fail spectacularly, while they’re still under your roof. Teach them how to budget as soon as they can learn to tell the difference between different coins and bills (usually around age 6 or 7). Give them a little spending money – say, on a family trip or at a carnival – and let them blow it on whatever they choose.
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Once they realize that their limited funds won’t cover everything their little hearts desire, and that choices have consequences, they will be well on their way to learning how to choose among different options and make a decision. And failing early/small, with you there to help them talk through how things could work differently next time and what they’ve learned from not-quite-succeeding, will help them build confidence in their decision-making abilities down the road.
2. Don’t Make Decisions For Them
We all have great hopes and dreams for our children. But we cannot live their lives for them. They are separate from us, and they need to figure out and live out their own dreams – NOT ours.
This is so important – yet a lot of parents still make this mistake. You’ve probably got hopes and dreams for your kids and, often, they end up being a reflection of your own goals. As a parent, it can be so tempting to impose our own unfulfilled dreams and longings onto our children.
Don’t. Just don’t.
Your child is her own person with her own life to live – not yours. If you try to push them down a certain path, it’s going to have a negative effect. They might end up following your advice, but they’ll always feel as though they’re being forced into it, and they won’t be happy with their eventual career choice. (Or successful, for that matter.)
Even worse, they may also push back against you and end up making rash decisions about their future because they don’t want to do what you want. This is only going to lead to a lot of resentment and put a huge strain on your relationship with them.
As a parent, your job is to help them understand what their options are and encourage them to pursue whatever career makes them happy. Don’t let your own opinions get in the way of that.
3. Research The Options
A bachelor’s degree used to be the route to job security and upward class mobility. But this isn’t always the best route anymore. Trade schools, specialized training programs, and apprenticeships are all turning this notion upside down. Plenty of job openings exist (often in technical fields) in careers outside the scope of the traditional undergraduate education, at good salaries in fields that are in demand.
Your job is to ensure your student is aware of these options, so they can think critically about whether that traditional four-year on-campus experience is right for their future.
Some time away from school, whether through military service or via a “gap year” of work and travel, can help young adults gain both perspective and maturity. The skills and insights from such a break can help them explore new career options, and might open access to new financial and career-planning resources to them.
Even if they do want to get a degree, they might be better off doing an online college program instead. (Check out https://online.wlu.ca/ba-criminology-policing for an example of the kinds of courses available through online education.) Online part-time study and apprenticeships both allow students to make money while learning. Part-time online coursework is especially useful for those who need to work while going to school, and lets students earn a degree at their own pace while saving money.
It’s important that you and your child consider what career or careers they actually might want to pursue, then research the best way into that field. Pushing them to attend a traditional four-year college that won’t serve their career goals is a waste of time, money, and talent.
4. Don’t Force Conversations
Conversations about the future can be downright uncomfortable/awkward for your child at best, and anxiety- or panic-attack-provoking at worst. This is why it’s so important to be aware of how you bring up these conversations. If you sit them down and tell them that you need to have a big conversation about their future and they need to start making decisions right now, they’re going to get very defensive and shut down.
Instead, bring it up naturally and try to get those conversations going in a more informal way. Asking them which subjects they’re enjoying at school is a good place to start. They might tell you that they’re really enjoying their science lessons or tech classes, for example. Once you’ve got them thinking about what areas they enjoy the most, then you could ask if they’ve ever thought about doing one of those things for a career. It’s a low-pressure way to get them to start thinking about their options.
You can also mention other people and gauge their reaction. For example, if you’ve got friends who have kids that are a couple of years older than them, this is a good place to start. Mention that they’re getting on well at college or that they’ve just landed a new job in a certain field. Do your kids react by saying, “Oh, that sounds interesting?” Or do they seem bored and unimpressed? Either way, you (and they!) have clues about potential futures that interest them (or don’t).
And don’t forget about kids’ hobbies and interests. More than one video-game-obsessed teen has gone on to a successful career in coding. A college friend of mine who was obsessed with animals growing up (partly because her parents wouldn’t let her have pets) is now a successful veterinarian with her own practice. My brother Evan always loved the outdoors; today he works for the National Park Service.
Even hobbies like music or art can turn into a viable career path (albeit not the one your child may envision, perhaps). There are plenty of people that make money in these fields, so you have to have an open mind. Ask your child about their hobbies, and casually raise the possibility of pursuing it further. As a parent, your job is not to shut down their dreams by saying, “you can never make a living with that,” but rather help them explore viable career paths that include this love.
5.Explore other resources
There are some great resources out there that can help people figure out which career might be best for them. Your child’s current school should have guidance counselors (if they’re still in high school) or career counselors (if they’re already in college) on hand, ready to help them figure out what’s next and what comes after that. If your child hasn’t already made (or or been assigned) an appointment with this person, start there.
There are also tons of great resources online to help students sift through their interests and aptitudes. (For example, check out the super one at https://www.whatcareerisrightforme.com/career-aptitude-test.php.) If you can get your high-schooler to fill out one of these surveys, they’ll get a few good ideas about what their options are. Often, people come across things that they haven’t considered before.
Just remember that you don’t want to force it, so don’t sit them down and tell them they HAVE to do it. Instead, you should try to initiate the conversations naturally (see above). Then, if they tell you that they don’t have a clue what they want to do, you can suggest one of these tests.
6. Prepare yourself financially
This is an important one, because if your child does decide to continue their education after high school, someone is going to have to pay for it. Gone are the days when my own mama worked her way through nursing school by playing in a house band on weekends at parties.
Her total tuition and fees for each year of school were $400. Even if your child lives at home, knocks off a bunch of college credits in high school through dual enrollment and/or Advanced Placement, and starts out at a community college, his/her costs are going to be MUCH higher.
And you never want your child to be in a situation where they feel that they can’t tell you their true aspirations, because they worry about the financial side. (Moreover, a lot of schools fully expect that parents will be at least partially responsible for helping to pay for school, if your child is still your dependent.)
That’s why you need to plan for your family’s financial future and let your child know that, whatever path they choose, you’re there to support them. If you haven’t already done so, open a 529 college savings plan for each child. (This article tells you how to open a 529, step-by-step, and this article helps you to sort through 529s and choose the one you like best.)
And it’s never too early to start strategizing how your child can get free money for postsecondary education. You read that correctly: FREE MONEY. A mama-blogger I know, Monica Mathews, has literally written the book (and the website) on this. To learn how she helped her son locate and earn over $100,000 in scholarships for his college education, check out her website. From finding crazy little-known scholarships to filling out and filing financial-aid applications, she covers it all.
7. Manage your child’s expectations
Even though the decisions that your kids are making now are important, they don’t necessarily have to have their whole lives mapped out right now. When I graduated from college, no one made a living as a blogger, and I had no idea that blogs even existed. When I finished graduate school, a life as a work-at-home-mama who runs a parenting blog was the LAST thing I expected to be doing!
A lot of people change careers a few times before they land on something that they love. And that’s fine. It’s important to let your child know that it’s ok if they change their mind later on, and have more than one career throughout the course of their working life. This will take a load of pressure off, and make the process a lot easier for them.
Figuring out the next steps in “what am I going to do with the rest of my life?” is never easy, and always nerve-wracking. It’s my hope that these tips will help you to help your child navigate this journey as smoothly as possible.
Do you have any grown children who’ve left the nest? What is your best tip for parents whose children are approaching this transition? Let us know in the comments!
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