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Explaining Your Job to Your Kids

Does your child have any idea what you do all day after you've said goodbye in the morning? "Being separated while Mom and Dad are at work can be hard on kids," says Phylis Benner, of the Children's Foundation, in Washington, DC, which provides training for parents and caregivers. "But it's easier for a child who learns that her parents have important responsibilities." Plus, introducing your line of work could pique your youngster's interest in it when she's ready to explore careers. Ways to explain what you do:

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Until age 3, "Bye-bye, Mommy's going to work" is about all a child needs to hear and will be able to comprehend. Later, use familiar language. If you're defining a lot of terms in order to explain your job, you've gone over your child's head. "Instead of telling my 8-year-old that I program computers to keep financial records," says Diane Attanasio, a newspaper business systems manager who lives in Lindenhurst, NY, "I say that I help other people use the computer so that the newspaper can keep track of the money we make and spend."

BRING THEM IN

"Work" is hard for kids to visualize; your cubicle or office isn't. From time to time, take your little one to your workplace. "Explain, 'This is my desk, these are my papers, these are the people I work with,'" says Benner. Since preschoolers may have a hard time remembering what the setup looks like, supply a picture of Mommy and Daddy in their workplaces that your child can keep at daycare.

SHOW AND TELL

"Kids learn best with concrete objects," says Benner. So no matter how far removed it is from your company's product, your job will come alive for your child if you show her something tangible. If you work as an accounts manager for a company that makes cellular phones, for example, bring one home for her to see.

PUT THEM TO WORK

While your child shouldn't finger expensive equipment, of course, you can give him a taste of what you do by letting him open mail or sort folders by color. Michelle Sagalyn, the director of business and product development for DCC/The Dependent Care Connection, in Westport, CT, lets her 3-year-old son retrieve office voice-mail messages with her from home. "Between hearing the beeps and hitting the pound key," she says, "he's enthralled."

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