I think we should ask our children this question more. It helps us take the pulse of the kind of influence that the external environment, ourselves and the activities we allow them to engage in, have on them. Kids internalise the notions of good and bad mostly from the social environment around them and they learn what is acceptable or not. They are feeling the contours of our social interactions and the consequences of it.
To ask them who they want to be is to help them consolidate their learnings and have them recognise consistencies or inconsistencies without being explicit about it. I recall asking my young little 5-year old cousin, ‘why are you jumping around?’ and she replied ‘I’m a frog’. Then when she starting walking instead of jumping, I asked ‘why are you walking now?’ and she responded promptly, ‘I’m a penguin’. There is clearly this sense of our actions and behaviours explained in terms of our identity even from that early age.
Being careful in moulding and helping children understand where and how they find their identity is so important because that’s going to affect the way they think about work and play. For children who responds saying they want to be ‘a doctor’ or a ‘firefighter’, then parents or adults around them should recognise perhaps they already equate identity to professions or jobs. If they respond based on character values (eg. A kind person) or socio-economic status (eg. Rich person), you’d also realise how much those sort of values you’re inculcating in them.
And for now, it’s probably a good thing we should be reflecting upon as an adult. Who did we want to be and did we become him/her? Why?