The one question a psychologist wants you to stop asking your kids

Posted in Learning and Development.

Organisational psychologist Adam Grant wants parents to stop asking their kids what they want to be when they grow up. Because according to The New York Times columnist, it does more damage than good.

“My first beef with the question is that it forces kids to define themselves in terms of work … The second problem is the implication that there is one calling out there for everyone,” he wrote in a recent article


What do you make of that?

I am 100 percent guilty of asking my sons this when they’re mid-play.

One of them almost always has tools in his hands, the other zooming a wannabe police car around the house.

And one of our favourite books to read together is, “When I grow up I want to be…” and it lists all the different types of occupations. From Astronaut to spy, every time we read it they choose a different one.

Could this be setting them up for failure and disappointment?

I think talking about your kid’s future life is cute, and a bit of harmless fun. It stirs the imagination and creates a sense of excitement and wonder about what life could bring. 

But Adam Grant says from what he’s witnessed with clients over the years, those kinds of questions can be stifling and restrictive, setting our kids up for disappointment.

“It gives your kids the impression that there is ‘only one’ calling out there. Although having a calling can be a source of joy, research shows that searching for one leaves students feeling lost and confused. And even if you’re lucky enough to stumble onto a calling, it might not be a viable career… You’re better off going into the world of work with a warts and all mentality.”

Instead, ask them what ‘type’ of person they want to be

Regardless of what you make of that idea, one of Adam’s strongest points is saying we need to put more focus on asking our kids what kind of person they want to be when they grow up.

“Asking kids what they want to be leads them to claim a career identity they might never want to earn. Instead, invite them to think about what kind of person they want to be — and about all the different things they might want to do.”


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