Too often we’re living day-to-day: pick up the kids from school, get groceries, make dinner, throw in a load of laundry, go through school papers and help with homework, get kids to bed, and collapse in your own bed shortly after. But this “rat race” we’re living can result in missed conversations with our children.

I constantly hear of parents frustrated with children who can’t choose a major/career pathway once they’re ready to leave high school. What could we as parents have done to better guide them? One idea: perhaps ask more questions about what the future might hold. I’m not talking the ever-popular, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” No. I’m talking the juicy stuff that helps us dig into the crevices of what could be – and allows our children to consider the possibilities as well.

Disclaimer: This is not a promise that your child will have their life figured out when they’re 18. That’s nearly never a guarantee. However, having these conversations will hopefully lead to your child looking for opportunities to explore more about their career path – job shadowing, anyone?

  1. What are your dreams for the future?

Listen for any themes to indicate what your child may value: family, friends, having a job and money, self-respect, independence, etc. Depending on the age of your child, this will vary – particularly between a high school and elementary school student.

Talk about dreams often in your family – and how even we as adults never stop dreaming for the future. Someday I dream of getting published on a national platform and raising a son who grows up to be a good man. My husband dreams of a lake house where he can step out the back door and fish – and winning the lottery so he never has to work again. Now if he would just buy a lottery ticket…

  1. What makes you feel anxious about the future?

Generation Z (0-18-year-olds) has been called the most stressed generation to date – due to the speedy, information-heavy technological world we live in. “Today’s typical high school student endures the same anxiety levels as a psychiatric patient did in the early 1950s,” according to Dr. Michael Leahy.

We’ve got to help our children begin to cope with what the future holds. Acknowledging these fears and speaking positively about the future (including speaking positively about your current adult life) can help your child begin to process how to handle the unexpected, and look forward to the unknown.

  1. If you wrote a blog/book/TV series, what would it be about?

This is a sneaky way of finding out what your child is passionate about. Ask them to elaborate on the details, or come up with more ideas. Warning: this may also cause them to get more serious about picking a career path because they start thinking big possibilities. (Hurray!)

  1. I wonder what it would be like to…

React to careers you see in real time. The next time you’re watching Chopped with your child, start a conversation. “I’m so impressed by the creativity these chefs have to come up with gourmet meals on the spot. Would you like a job where you could be creative like that?”

Or when at the store: “I can’t believe how calm that employee was while that customer was yelling at her. I don’t know if I could do a job that requires that skill. Could you?”

Oh, snap. You are an ultra-sneaky parent.

  1. How can I help you…?

In elementary school, children typically love pouring out every detail of their school day. But it usually changes in middle and high school. Ask how you can help often – with homework, relationships, and any other challenges your child tackles. You may have to prod to find out what’s going on, but let them know you’re always there to back them up.

I know it’s hard to not get caught up in the day-to-day. But I hope you’ve been encouraged to have more meaningful conversations to get your student talking about their future. Good luck!