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While some people may be more naturally hopeful than others, hopefulness isn’t just a matter of temperament. Like health, hope is affected by our context – our interpersonal, social, economic, and political circumstances. What this means is that we can all help each other become more hopeful through our everyday interactions.
Hope is a verb: something we do together
Behind the idea of hope in practice is a belief in the power of community. In other words: “We can’t do it alone.” Only with the support of others can we accomplish our goals, meet our needs, and increase our well-being. The way we make this happen is by refusing isolation. When we reach out to others, we help foster hope — both for ourselves, and for those who need a hand when they can’t do it on their own.
Practicing hope in this way will be especially familiar to parents of young children. Reassuring them when they’re frustrated, soothing them when they’re hurt, and supporting them to try again when they feel they have failed are big parts of every parent’s day-to-day life. But as children get older, fostering hope can be more of a challenge. The shifting boundaries between parents and their growing child can make it difficult to know how to help. Older kids and teens may become suspicious or even dismissive of hope, believing instead that what they struggle with now they will struggle with forever. This is common; but all it means is that we need to practice more hope. It will help to guide young people forward and overcome their obstacles.
Tips For Fostering Hope In Young People
Practicing hope with children is an ongoing process. In the following, you’ll find some different ways we can make our family lives “hope-centric” to help foster hope in children.
Listen actively. It’s easy to get into the habit of half-listening to young people or starting to prepare a response while they’re still explaining something. But by doing this, we miss out on a lot of what they’re telling us. By being an active listener instead — repeating back or “reflecting” what a child has said by using phrases like, “what I think you’re telling me is…” — you may be surprised by how much more productive and meaningful your conversations with them can be.
Focus on the message. Kids and teens may describe their struggles in a language or tone that seems overly dramatic for the issue they are facing. Try to understand the wish or need behind it — that may help you appreciate what’s at stake for them in their struggle. Most often, they are expressing universal needs: the need to belong, to feel respected, to feel well, and to succeed. What can a child’s feelings of sadness, anger, fear, or uncertainty tell them (and us) about what is happening in their lives? What do their feelings say about their needs for wellness?
Practice empathy. We can start empathizing by trying to understand young people’s frame of reference. How do they define their perceptions, goals, wishes, and dreams? What does their problem or situation mean to them?
Avoid minimizing. Many adults feel that life isn’t always fair and react to setbacks or disappointments with a shrug of resignation. They may feel that a young person is being dramatic or overreacting to the problems they are facing — and that may be true. But responding to youth in a way that minimizes what they’re going through can often make them feel as if they aren’t understood or their problems aren’t respected. At these moments, it may be more helpful for adults to stop and reflect on their own experiences and assumptions about distress. Let’s ask ourselves: what is an appropriate reaction to disappointment? Where did we get this idea from? How do our assumptions help, or hinder, our ability to listen openly to our child’s concerns?
Tailor responses. Simpler reassurances often work well with younger children, especially when combined with gestures of affection. For older kids and teens, on the other hand, it’s a good idea to match your response to the complexity of the problem. A helpful response might begin with an acknowledgement that things aren’t simple, and then move on to helping the child make sense of their problem in the context of their larger experience.
In a struggle
Slow down. As parents and caregivers, we instinctively try to take care of the children in our lives. When our kids are stuck, we may jump quickly into problem-solving mode as a way to reassure them. But not all problems have solutions, and they’re not all within our child’s (or our own) control. Taking the time to listen to what the problem means to the child is a helpful and validating act, even when there are no solutions.
Focus on strengths and skills. When a child is struggling, pointing out the things they are doing well can help them become hopeful that these strategies will help them deal successfully with future challenges. Complimenting kids and teens when they’ve been thoughtful, kind, insightful, or strategic during situations they found disappointing can also be helpful and the more detailed the compliment, the better it is. For example: “I was really impressed with the way you handled yourself in that disagreement with your brother. From the way you were asking questions I could tell you were trying to understand things from his perspective and to be respectful. That shows kindness and maturity.”
Facilitate connections. Young people benefit from having a range of human connections. Encouraging them to talk to others — an aunt, a family friend, a teacher, or a guidance counsellor — about their struggles can help them build a support network that offers them a range of perspectives and types of assistance. Connecting with others who have made it through similar struggles can go a long way to facilitating the hope that “I can get through this.”
Encourage independence. Hopeful people trust that they can create meaning and fulfillment in their own lives. When young people are able to take an active role in making decisions that affect them, they learn that they have some control over their environment. In this way, having choices — and the opportunity to try, fail, and try again — teaches kids and teens how to be hopeful.
Be a role model. Children learn how to “be” in the world from those around them. When we model behaviours and attitudes that support hope and well-being, the young people in our lives will have the opportunity to learn from our example. Some of the things we can do to model hope and well-being include:
- Expressing a range of emotions and being OK with talking about them (even the hard ones).
- Supporting others who are struggling and letting others support us when we need help.
- Having and valuing respectful and loving relationships.
- Taking the lead in some circumstances and following in others.
- Planning for the future, including setting short- and long-term goals.
- Recognizing that life includes setbacks and disappointments by:
- Reflecting that it’s OK to make mistakes.
- Apologizing when we’ve made a mistake.
- Losing gracefully.
- Adapting goals to make them more achievable.
- Demonstrating that all people have value by:
- Being non-judgemental.
- Being curious about and interested in other people.
- Valuing yourself.
- Reflecting that material possessions do not reflect a person’s worth.