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A survival guide for taking your kids to work

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1751 GMT (0151 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Millions are expected to join in "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day"
  • This is the 21st year for the annual event that asks parents take their children to work
  • For many parents, the challenge is how to make the day fun and meaningful
  • "You don't bring a child there to babysit," a spokesman for the organizers said

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- It was one of those mom moments, one of those "no matter how much you try to plan and do for your children, you can't think of everything" realizations. (If you have kids, you know exactly what I mean.)

I received the advisory about Turner Broadcasting's "Take Your Kid to Work Day" plan, part of the national "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" scheduled for Thursday. (Turner Broadcasting is CNN's parent company.)

Here in New York, children ages 8 to 13 will try their hand at being a television anchor by reading from a teleprompter; interview CNN anchors and reporters and get a tour of CNN's studios and newsrooms.

It would be a dream-come-true kind of day for my oldest daughter, who just turned 8, and already seems way too comfortable with a microphone in her hand. ("What about being a doctor?" my journalist husband and I joke when we suspect our gal might follow in our footsteps.)

But then came the realization that I had committed to another event the same day. I'll be moderating a panel of amazing women, which is a wonderful thing to do -- but it means I won't be able to take my daughters to work, something I've tried to do nearly every year. I love the whole concept behind the day, giving our children a chance to see what we do when we're not with them while learning about careers that can help influence their professional paths.

READ: Bring your parents to work day: Positive trend or helicopter parenting?

While my scheduling snafu will likely put me in the doghouse at home for a short time, it does eliminate a challenge I encountered each year, the same one faced by more than 37 million Americans who are participating in the 21st annual day of parents taking their children to work: How to make the day fun and interesting for children, yet realistic? Having our kids think every day is a party doesn't communicate the career aspect of the event -- and no workplace needs children wreaking havoc on the business day.

A meltdown in a grocery store is downright cringe-worthy. The same such outburst outside your cubicle? Exponentially more uncomfortable. You can imagine the eye rolls now and the conversation around the water cooler, "What kind of parent lets their kid do that?"

So, in honor of my fellow parents, I put together five tips, almost a survival guide, to help parents, their sons and daughters get the most out of this special day.

1. Make it memorable

This doesn't mean you have to turn your office environment into a middle school dance party or a visit to Disneyworld, but you do want to make sure your child gets something out of the experience. Having your son or daughter sit next to you in your cubicle while you work on a computer and they play video games is not much different than what they could do at home.

"You don't bring a child there to babysit," said George McKecuen, a communications specialist with the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day Foundation. "We heard where people bring the children when they're like 5 and 6 months old. I can't think of a horror story much worse than having to do a job and babysit" an infant, he said.

2. Plan, plan, plan

Many companies will do the planning for you, scheduling a series of events throughout the day to keep the children busy and engaged. "Whoever is setting up your program has to set it up so the stress is not on the parent to babysit (and) there are things for the young people to do throughout the day," McKecuen said. "It'll make the young people feel better. It'll make the parents feel better too."

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace writes that sadly, she won\'t be taking her daughters to work with her this year.
CNN's Kelly Wallace writes that sadly, she won't be taking her daughters to work with her this year.

If no one is doing the planning for you, do it yourself. Schedule some meaningful events for the day -- introduce your children to your colleagues and have them talk about what they do, have your children attend different meetings with you, show them how you are trying to solve a problem, or have them give you input to help you solve a problem. As with all parenting, planning goes a long way.

3. Don't lose track of them

This sounds obvious, but it's easy to see how it can happen. A parent gets busy with a project or a long conference call, gets distracted and then within minutes their son or daughter is wandering the hallways. Not a problem if you've explained to your children what's expected of them and where they need to be at all times, but somewhat tense if they accidentally walk into a conference room that just happens to be where your boss is holding a big meeting. How do you spell stressful?

Parents should explain to children that normal business is operating while they are there. McKecuen suggests telling them: "We expect you to behave like you would in somebody else's home. This is not a runaway activity." To keep the anxieties in check, have a plan on what your children can do with you and without you, and where they are expected to be throughout the day.

4. Don't have your kids do your job

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If you thought this was your chance to get out of coming up with ideas for the big management meeting, or entering the data for the end of quarter reports, think again! "This is not a day to put children to work," McKecuen said. The goal, of course, is for them to see what you do, and who you work with, and to get a sense of whether your career is one they'd like to pursue down the road.

"The important thing is to make them feel that they're having not just a free day, but they're having a learning experience that will be meaningful, yet not too stressful to them."

5. Snack time

Putting in a day's work entitles any child some kind of treat when it's all over. As you enjoy a snack together, ask your child what they liked about the day and what they didn't, and what they learned by going to work with you. Their answers will not only help you figure out how to make next year's "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" even better. They might even help you realize what you love about your job and what you don't.

Are you participating in "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day"? Chime in in the comments below or tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter and CNN Living on Facebook.

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