(originally posted on gallupstudentpoll.com)
What is Hope?
Watching children on a playground tells you all you need to know about hope. A child’s vision transforms a series of obstacles (tall ladders, hard to reach monkey bars, wobbly wooden bridges) into limitless opportunities for fun. Goals become very clear (“I am going to swing across all the monkey bars.”), the plan develops (“I am going to climb the ladder, grab the bar, and swing from the first one to the second one.”), and support is requested (“Can you help me up?”) while confidence grows (“I think I got it. Yeah, I am doing it!”).
Hope happens when we focus our thoughts on clear and meaningful goals. We concentrate on the future we want, reflect on our goals, and think about all the ways we can make our vision of the future a reality. When we put our thoughts about our goals together with ideas and energy for the future, we are most hopeful. Ideas are shaped into pathways to a goal and the energy, or personal agency, is built up over time. So, the statement “These are the many ways I can get there from here” reflects the ideas or pathways of hope. And, “I am excited and confident about getting there from here!” captures the energy of agency. Contentment, pride, and joy come about when we use our hopeful thinking and overcome obstacles. Frustration, sadness, and anger bubble up when obstacles wear us down.
The essence of hope is having the drive to set and pursue goals, to take risks, to initiate action. Hope fuels problem-solving and it helps us develop personal strengths and social resources. More specifically, having hope makes us more likely to do well in school and to take good care of our health.
Why Hope is Important?
Whether your child is experiencing good times or bad times, hope can help. During a good day, when a child is thinking about a bright future, hope helps him persist on important tasks, create challenging stretch goals that foster growth, and build new resources through successful experiences. On tough days, ones that involve failure or illness, hope helps a child overcome major obstacles. For example, if a child receives a poor grade on a test, she revisits her goal for that class, adds or modifies the pathways to achieving that goal, and searches for more support and confidence. In short, she makes hope happen when she is under pressure. When facing more serious problems in life, like chronic pain and illness, hope works to make situations more bearable or makes the recuperative process more productive. Specifically, high-hope people can tolerate pain twice as long as people with low-hope. And, high-hope people are more likely to do what needs to be done to bounce back and become healthy again.
What Does a High Hoper Look Like?
A high-hope child has the ideas, the plans, and the motivation to make things happen. These youngsters are energetic in the moment and excited about the future. Hopeful children are not sitting on the sidelines. They are busy creating pathways to achieve goals and they are filled with the determination to succeed, thereby actively engaging in life and all its possibilities. Through interacting with the world, they are able to acquire the tools and resources they need to successfully navigate their lives. They may even create a hope domino effect that gets their friends and family members involved in hopeful goal pursuits.
Getting children talking about hope is as easy as asking them a few questions and discussing the answers:
1. What are your hopes and dreams? Which one is most important to you right now?
2. What are all the ways you can think about to make your most important dream come true?
3. Who makes you feel like you matter? How will their love and support help make your dream come true?
When helping your child become more hopeful, keep in mind that that you are teaching a set of skills that build on what children do naturally, thinking about the future. With a little help, children can learn how to describe important goals in terms that are clear and specific and add something to their lives. Ideas grow as children generate more and more routes that will take them from Point A to Point B in the short term and long term. Finally, with some love and caring and a short track record of personal success, children can stay energized and motivated when pursuing goals.