"Mummy, what do you do at work?" The best way to answer this common kid question

Kinderling News & Features

Just this week I was telling my oldest son Harry, four, about being on the radio for work that day.

“What’s radio?” came his reply. While I tried to explain, he turned back to his Lego again.  

“That’s okay,” I said, “One day you’ll understand.”

I’ve worked since Harry was 10 months old. So from the very early days of my motherhood experience, I’ve been looking for ways to explain where I was going to be, when I wasn’t with him.

Our children can tell if work is a happy place

Work for me has always been a positive thing because I love being able to write for a living. Of course, there have been times when the working environment has stopped being the right “fit”, but I’ve always hoped that my positive feelings about work will be a great thing for my sons.

Prue Gilbert is the founder of Grace Papers, a business that supports working mothers. She says I’m describing  “connection to purpose” and that parents have a big role to play in establishing what that means, and why it’s important.  

Listen to Prue on Kinderling Conversation:

We can role model a “connection to purpose”

“Kids are little sponges and they do pick up on how we feel about work.  They may not understand the concepts of money and work and they can only take in so much verbally, but the way we behave and our attitudes towards work they pick up on and observe,” says Prue.

“Comprehension and language of why we work is mixed, depending on their age,” she continues. “And while most of us go to work for financial gain, it’s important that we show them that work can be more than about money.”

One way to do that is to start the conversation with your child. And that simply by asking them what they think mummy and daddy do at work.

What age can you start talking to your kids about work?

This really depends on your child, but Prue suggests being mindful to explain what you do in simple terms can be a great way to kickstart your child's understanding of how a career is developed. 

“I remember the day my little boy, my eldest, when he sort of started talking about work he was about two or three, I think he said, “Why do you go to work, Mum?” And I said, well I go to work so that I can buy your birthday present. And then the next day, he said, “Mum why are you going to work today?” And I thought, “Oh my goodness, are these questions ever going to end? So I said I go to work so I can pay the water bills, so you can have bath!”

Challenge the status quo from an early age 

Talking about work can help challenge gender stereotypes from an early age.  And while all children benefit from an easy discussion about what work means to their parents, Prue says it’s especially important for our daughters.

“It’s important for (our daughters) to know what is possible out there and challenge the idea of what they can be when they grow up,” says Prue.

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