4 Tips for Making the Most of Take Your Kids to Work Day

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This article, written by Amy Paturel, was originally posted on Citi’s Women & Co.

Since her children were infants, Bridget Simpson of Ticonderoga, New York, has been taking them to work. Her eldest accompanied her as a weeks-old infant while she lifeguarded. Now he’s old enough to shovel snow, check the mail, fold bulletins, and staple the monthly newsletter at Simpson’s job as office administrator.

On Thursday, April 24, 2014, more than 35 million Americans will join Simpson in participating in Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. Since 1993, the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation has been educating children about the wealth of job possibilities for their future. More than a “career day,” this nationwide event provides girls and boys with hands-on experience in the workplace, shedding unparalleled light on what a parent or mentor does professionally.

“Just like Back to School Night gives us a better understanding of how our children spend their days, taking our children to work helps them realize we are more complex and multi-faceted than just being mom or dad,” says expert Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP, personal coach and author of Creating Your Best Life. “Seeing us in a work environment gives our children an appreciation for how we solve problems, interact with different personality types, and collaborate with others so that they can better imagine a professional future for themselves.”

What you find interesting may not be what your child wants to see.

Here are four tips to make this year’s day — with the theme, ”Plant a Seed, Grow a Future” — a smashing success.

1. Plot out the day with your child in advance.

Determine which activities and tasks will be most beneficial — and ask for input. “What you find useful and interesting may not be what your child wants to see,” says Miller. Better yet, get your colleagues involved in planning appropriate activities. Roxanne Harrington of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, writes in a conversation on Connect, Citi’s network for professional women on LinkedIn, that she worked as an operations manager at a mortgage lending company where organizers scheduled a full morning of activities for the kids. “The regional manager interviewed them and I gave them assignments like copying, drawing pictures for employees’ cubicles and building files,” she says. The day-end payoff: lunch with the whole team.

2. Prepare your children.

Explain what a day at the office will be like and be clear about your expectations, including any work-related tasks you’ll be assigning to them. “It’s important to consider the age and developmental stage of the child who is accompanying you to work,” explains Juda Carter, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Education at California State University in Fullerton, California, and author of Keep It Positive: A New Approach to Successful Parenting. “If the child is younger, the visit should be shorter and confined to activities the child can understand and enjoy, while older children may be able to complete the whole day, with preparation and a nice lunch break.”

3. Give them the real deal. Rather than sugarcoat challenges, show your children how you navigate treacherous waters at work. Just keep it positive. The experience could shape the way your child views the workplace, say experts. That’s one reason why employees like Harrington believe it’s a good idea for everyone in the office to acknowledge the kids and introduce themselves: “If possible, keep activities to half a day. Regular business still needs to get done.”

4. Debrief.

See if your children can identify the core strengths that allow you to perform on the job, based on specific examples from the day. Ask them what they believe are their own personal strengths and give them an opportunity to imagine how they’ll use those traits when they join the workforce. “Parents might want to take the VIA Strengths Test and talk specifically about how their top five strengths show up in their jobs everyday,” suggests Miller. “Many people find that work is the place they’re most likely to use their strengths to make a difference in the world. Exposing your children to your work and explaining that it’s a calling and not just a job can change their anticipation of entering the workforce in a very positive way.”

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