For many fathers, Take Your Child to Work Day seems more like an excuse for their children to miss a day of school than an opportunity for them to learn, expand horizons, or connect.
You bring your kid in, everybody fawns over how cute they are and how much they’ve grown, and then your son or daughter just sits in the corner while you go about your workday, more an annoyance than an apprentice. At some workplaces, they even set aside a conference room for children to play and watch movies, away from their parents and away from the action.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Children learning about the kind of work that awaits them as adults is a time-honored tradition. Before there was TYCTWD, there were hunters, blacksmiths, shopkeepers, and bankers who brought their children with them out of necessity and as preparation for their child’s future--when your kid following in your footsteps was taken for granted.
Even now, our parent’s profession and support can have a huge effect on what we turn out to do. Bill Gates father was an attorney who worked with tech companies as the young Bill Gates was developing his interests. In one interview, Gates recalls that as a sixth-grader, his father “...had me go down and meet with Dr. Edmark and Hunter Simpson. I wrote a long report about Physio-Control. Intermec, they did a tape reader. The original Traf-O-Data tape reader I got some guys at Intermec to build.”
Bill Gates with his father Photo Credit: The blog of Bill Gates
This kind of opportunity and exposure gave Gates a bridge into the world he would later dominate. While not everyone is going to grow up to become Bill Gates, we can all aim to take our time and our children’s time seriously by doing Take Your Child to Work Day right.
Recommendations for All Ages
1. Prepare Together: Walk your child through what a normal day looks like and any specifics about the day they’ll be coming in. You can’t predict everything but do the best you can. Try to get them familiar with some ideas and vocabulary that will help them categorize what will be going on around them.
2. Ask Questions: What does your child want to know about your job? What is their current understanding of your work? Do they think you just play on the phone and computer all day? What are they interested in doing when they grow up?
3. Direct Attention: Knowing what to focus on and give time to is a big part of your job and you do it so well that you may not even realize how much noise there is around you. Help your child really see what you’re doing by calling attention to certain people, decisions, and skills that you exercise. For younger children, you can come up with a code word to help them notice something important. This will make them feel like you’re in a secret club together and help them focus.
4. Make Metaphors: Our highly specialized economy means what we do at work is often hard to communicate, even to other adults. When possible, try to draw parallels between what you’re doing and something that your child is familiar with. Stories are especially helpful to children under 12.
Ideas for the Ages
“What I hear I forget, what I see I remember, what I do I understand.”
- Chinese Proverb
The chance to watch you at work improves your child’s understanding of your world. You can deepen this experience by accomplishing tasks or being creative together. What you can do depends on your child’s age. Here are a few suggestions:
3-7: Children in this age group are very energetic. Consider only doing half-a-day with these children and make sure to give them time and space to move around throughout the duration of their stay.
They are also very imaginative and rule-obsessed. They understand hierarchies. Let them know that you’re the leader and that means you help to make the rules. Encourage them to think about the employees. How should you treat them? How should they treat you? You can ask them to make up some of their own rules. Allow them to be funny or really challenge them to think seriously.
8-12: Kids at this age are starting to grasp logic and morality and still have a lot of the creativity that is the mark of a younger mind. They’re likely very interested in money. Consider showing them some visual marketing materials and have them share their thoughts on them. What do they like? Dislike? How would they sell your product or service?
13-18: Teenagers are not as obsessed with their parents as younger children but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a lot out of the day. Begin by showing an interest in them. Ask your child to walk you through a typical day for them so they feel visible before shadowing you.
By this age, you can delve into really any part of your decision-making your child shows interest in. Consider talking to them about talent management as they are now building their own skills and have their own aspirations. They may also want to hear about your challenges and stresses. These conversations can help to give them a bird’s eye view of the rewards and challenges that come with the responsibility of adulthood.
A Chance to Bond
At the end of the day, let children of all ages know that you appreciate their cooperation, work, and time. Praise them for their effort.
When you do Take Your Child to Work Day right, your children aren’t distractions. They become valuable contributors who bring a third-party perspective to daily operations and creative projects. The day becomes one of bonding and enlightenment as you show interest in their thoughts, confidence in their abilities, and help them find what lights them up. Learn and connect on TYCTWD by going in with the right expectations and the right plan.