ACA Blog

Kevin Stoltz
Dec 11, 2009

It's Just Child’s Play, or is it? Helping Parents Support Children’s Career Development

Research indicates that children develop ideas about career much earlier than was previously thought (Hartung, Profeli, & Vondracek, 2005). According to Gottfredson (2002), children become aware of power in relationships and occupations at age 3 to 5 years. At 6 to 8 years old, children begin to identify gender with occupations and begin to associate prestige with careers around the age of 9 to 13. All of these developmental stages can be seen in the activities of children, and one of the major activities of children is play.

Play is a central activity in children’s early life. Play is an exploratory activity that helps the child to learn about the world. Watching play is a way to understand children’s emerging schemas of the world around them. This is a major tenant of Play Therapy. Embedded in this play are glimpses of career development. Children are experimenting with many behaviors and activities that represent the raw materials of the Holland codes. I say raw materials here to emphasize that children are developing throughout childhood and these personality traits, outlined by the Holland codes, are emerging in the child’s activities and environment. However, Tracey (2002) demonstrated that the Holland circular structure did not fit well with children. Theories posit that these themes emerge through development by a process called differentiation. Children begin to learn about their personal skills, values, and interests as they grow and differentiate themselves. It is this aspect of career development that is not often emphasized in counseling with families.

School counselors are well aware of early childhood career development. Many curricular and guidance activities are focused on helping young children explore skills, values, and interests. These activities are designed to help students understand themselves and the world of work at developmentally appropriate levels (Colozzi, 2008). However, counselors working with children and families rarely include career concepts into the counseling process. Of course, these clients come to a counselor with specific difficulties or problems. In addition to social, emotional, and cognitive develop, there are aspects of career development that can be impacted by these issues. Helping parents understand the implications of developmental issues is an important part of helping children and families. Developing difficulties relating to others not only impact children’s current functioning, but also may affect how they explore their environment. Curtailing exploratory behavior can lead to withdrawal (Super, 1990). This withdrawal can limit children’s options for learning new activities that can lead to new interests. Assisting parents with strategies and plans to engage the child and increase exploratory behavior would be an important intervention.

Sometimes we fail to see exploratory behavior in activities. Now, I am not a big computer gaming advocate for children, but what does this activity have to offer children from an expression of interests perspective? Certainly, fine motor skills and memory are being exercised. In addition, planning and executing strategies for playing the game are involved. Also, we can see strivings for power, prestige and superiority in many of the games. How can these activities be conceptualized to represent positive aspects for personality? One example may be that striving for power or influence is a trait of the enterprising (E) personality category of Holland. Perhaps, parents can learn how to reflect this as an interest to children that seem focused on computer gaming. Assisting children to explore other enterprising characteristics like debating, selling, and political persuasion may be good additive activities for children that express their interests in gaming. Certainly, there are other ways to interpret children’s gaming behavior. It is a very individualized process, but, one that can be addressed in working with children and families.

I have come to believe that all behavior has purpose and meaningfulness to the individual. Children are not exempt from this “law of movement” (Adler in Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1957). Play, a primary activity in children’s lives, has meaning; our job is to see the goal and support the positive aspects of the developing purpose.

Have you seen the career meanings in children’s play?



Kevin Stoltz is counselor and an assistant professor at The University of Mississippi. He specializes in career counseling and Adlerian Psychology and has a strong interest (no pun intended) in early recollections related to work life.

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