03 Aug Helping Your Child Discover Who They Are To Be.
What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question adults sometimes ask young children, though probably not one to which we expect a considered answer. But the answers they give do tell us something about the roles or qualities that children admire or think are important, whether it be footballer, pop star, astronaut or actor; doctor, teacher, firefighter, or ‘a mummy,’ as one little girl said.
We may smile at some of their more fanciful ambitions, and while we know that some children do indeed follow their childhood dreams, we also know that most will end up taking a very different path. In many ways, there have never been more opportunities open to young people, so discernment will be needed in order to make wise choices. As parents we can help to guide them in the process, but should we be doing anything while they are still so young?
The messages that our children hear in childhood can undoubtedly prepare the ground for their understanding of vocation, the path to which God is calling them. Parents can play an important role in communicating these messages and sowing the seeds, though at this stage, it’s not about questions and answers; it’s about helping them to begin the process.
Genesis tells us that when God made man and woman, the first thing he told them was “Be fruitful” (Gen 1:28). He created us to grow and to help others to grow, to make things and to make a positive difference. When we do this, we cooperate with God and in this we find joy and fulfilment. So we can teach our young children the ways in which they can already make a difference, by being kind, helpful and loving, as well as in more practical ways like baking, growing vegetables or picking litter, or in sharing their talent for art, music or sport. These early experiences of being fruitful are valuable in themselves, but could also be the very first steps towards discerning their vocation.
Sometimes talents show themselves early on; sometimes it takes time for us to recognise them. Regardless, parents can reassure their children that God gives everyone the gifts, talents and abilities they need to make a positive difference. Whether they are practical, intellectual or creative gifts, they are given by God for a purpose. Knowing this helps a child to feel secure, and lessens the temptation to compare themselves unfavourably with others. Their gifts and talents will still need to be explored and developed, requiring practice, patience and perseverance, as well as parental encouragement, but as our children mature, being able to reflect honestly on their qualities and abilities will help them to discern God’s plan for their lives.
Finally, it is worth discussing with older children who their role models are, and helping them to articulate what it is about them that they admire. How much do they really know about their role models – is it based on their talent and ability, or on celebrity status and media hype? Are they using their talents to make a positive difference, or are they famous merely for being famous? Obviously this needs to be done sensitively; we’re not suggesting our children are wrong to admire these people, we’re just helping them to be more discerning, to reflect and choose wisely. If our goal is to be like the people we admire, it will ultimately influence the choices we make.
Careers advice and choosing options may still be some years away. Your child’s discernment of their vocation may take even longer. The path might be relatively straightforward or there could be a few false starts along the way. But for now let’s help our children to grow, and to experience making a positive difference, the seeds that will one day bear fruit.
Find out more about A Fertile Heart and even sample some of our resources under the sections “What you need to know” and “Our Curriculum”.