Stop Asking Kids What They Want To Be When They Grow Up

How many times have we heard the age-old question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” It seems like the one thing people are obsessed with knowing about children.


How many times have we heard the age-old question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” It seems like the one thing people are obsessed with knowing about children. However, is it necessary or beneficial?

I’m saying ‘no.’

When I think back to hearing this question as a kid, it always made me feel like I had no purpose. I never had the “right” answer or the answer that the adults were looking for. I can remember the look on peoples’ faces when they asked me, and I told them I wanted to be a refrigerator.

Why did I want to be a refrigerator? So I would always have food and never be hungry. Naturally, they looked at me like I was ridiculous but let’s think about that for a minute.

A child wanting a basic human necessity – is it all that crazy? Sure, my thought processes were a little out of the box but which child’s isn’t?

We need to start asking children who they want to be rather than what they want to be.

Asking “Who” Over “What”

We’re all just winging this whole parenting thing, so there isn’t one way to ask your child the right questions. What’s essential is asking more open-ended questions and having that one-on-one conversation with your child.

It’s okay to ask who they want to be and in some cases what they want to be, but it’s essential to follow up with open-ended questions to learn their thought process behind their decision.

Asking open-ended questions provide both you and your child the opportunity to learn more about each other and foster a healthy parent-child relationship. There are also plenty of other benefits to open-ended questions too, like:

  • Thinking beyond the obvious
  • Allowing children to explain themselves
  • Can help short and long-term memory skills
  • Requires parents to listen attentively to their child rather than the other way around.

So, What Can You Ask?

After asking the initial “who do you want to be” question, your follow up questions can go a little bit like one or some of these:

  • Tell me more about that…
  • Why do you want to be that way?
  • What do you think you need to do to get there?
  • What kinds of things will you do?

Essentially any question that can give you more information about what your child is thinking will help foster in-depth conversation with each other.

Just the other day, I tried this with my 3-year-old. I asked her who she wanted to be when she grew up, and she told me she wanted to be a chef. This is odd considering she’s never mentioned anything of the sort before.

But, I asked her why and she told me because she loves to help me cook and wants to cook for the whole world someday. Even just asking one little question like that can help you get into the mind of your child. Who knew conversations with young children could be so entertaining?

There Isn’t Just One Life

Okay, so I guess technically there is depending on what you believe. But let’s talk metaphorically here for a minute.

If you’re asking questions like these, it’s also important to make sure your child knows that there isn’t one life-determining answer. If they want to be an astronaut one day and a professional chef the next, they need to know that’s entirely possible.

Oprah did a commencement speech at USC Annenberg in 2018, and something she said really helps put things into perspective:

“Your job is not always going to fulfill you.”

We need to start teaching our children that they’re not confined to one single box for their entire lives. Heck, I only wish more adults told me this when I was younger.

I lived (and still do most of the time) to please others. I followed a specific path because I thought that was what was expected of me. I didn’t take the time to honestly think about who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do to get there until it seemed like it was too late.

I’ve always been at least a half-way decent writer. I wrote my first short story about a Thanksgiving turkey named Tom when I was in the first grade, and my love for words has grown ever since.

But here’s the thing. As a young child, I never knew that being a writer was a “real job.” Nobody told me that those storybooks I loved reading were made by actual real-life people who *gasp* GOT PAID to write them.

There was always subtle encouragement to follow the path of medicine or law– because those are apparently the only two career options available to children– and nobody took the time to encourage me to do what I loved.

It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when I realized writing was a possibility. But, by then there were so many other factors in my life that made me hesitant in doing anything else, and I still went in another direction.

It’s time to break the cycle of putting kids into a box. As someone who has personally visited that box many times, I can attest to the fact that it isn’t a great place to be.

What Do I Do Now?

So now that you have this information, I’m going to send you on a challenge.

I want you to find time to talk to your child. Whether that be on the way to school or around the dinner table, ask them who they want to be and start a conversation with them.

After you do that, I want you to come back here and comment below the things you learned about your child. You’d be surprised by the fantastic stories and anecdotes kids will come up with.

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Josephine Schreiber
Josie is a freelance writer and the mom behind The Momillennial, a blog she started in 2016. She takes her experiences and writes from the heart. As the quintessential girl mom of a preschooler and another due in June, you can catch her singing Disney princess songs at any given moment. You can check out her blog at