“What are you going to be when you grow up?” is a question children are asked from a young age and eventually grapple with in their teens. As they narrow down their career choices they’ll need the advice and support of their parents. But knowing what to say and when to say it can be tricky. Here are four things to think about.

1.     Start talking to them early

Research has shown the importance of choosing a career path plays on the minds of children as young as 10. According to a study of nearly 6500 New South Wales students, children in Year 5 are selecting potential careers based on their NAPLAN scores. This is balanced with other research that has found university undergraduates don’t determine their career goals until after graduation. So while it’s important to encourage children to think about their future work choices, remember that it can be a question that continues well beyond school.

2.     Remember that life’s different now

Parents also need to be aware that today’s workplace could be very different to the one they encountered. The increased agility and mobility of Australia’s workforce means the national average job tenure is three years and four months. Avoid a lecture-style discussion on your child’s future career, advises Kathryn Taylor, career coach and director of Turning Point Consulting. Opt for a conversation that is always on the table, ready to be put down and picked up whenever your child needs. “Create a continual conversation, but in a soft way, not a dictated way,” she says.

3.     Timing is everything

Picking the right time to discuss the future hinges on your child and their experience of what work means. Some kids will know exactly what their parents do because they’ve either grown up alongside them in a family business or have seen them on a work site. More professional parents might need to explain a little more. A good time for career talk is when kids start secondary school and they have to think about elective subjects and work experience.

4.     Accentuate the positives

Encouraging children to focus on their strengths is a great way to springboard conversations about potential careers. Asking why they like those subjects and what their best skills are gets them thinking about which workplace they see themselves in one day. Parents also need to be wary of letting their personal prejudices get in the way of their child’s hopes for the future.

Some people will know exactly what they want to be, others are happy having a range of different options. So when it comes to the future, simply giving your child encouragement and support will go a long way to helping them make the best career choice possible.