Living in the Big Bad World
At the time of this writing, this author is watching the news coverage on the Sandy Hope Elementary School shootings in the United States and thinking about the sense of hopelessness that must be prevailing in the hearts and minds of children and families affected by the incident, as well of countless others who learnt about it around the world. How do we, as parents, even begin to help our children make sense of this world with a sense of hope?
Fathers have a Unique Role
Research suggests that dads are in a unique position to instill hope in their children, particularly in the pre-teen and teen years. A recent study found that fathers who practise authoritative parenting, defined as providing feelings of love, granting autonomy and emphasising accountability to a child, were more likely to have kids who developed the art of persistence – the ability to “stick with it” regardless of difficulties (Padilla-Walker & Day, 2012) .
While this finding does not imply that mothers do not instill values of hope and persistence, fathers may assume this role more often because of societal expectations for men to demonstrate “hard” values, like determination. And, this can help children face the future with more hope.
All about Hope
But what exactly is this big entity we call “hope”? The dictionary offers us several permutations. As a noun, hope is the “feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best”. As a verb, hope is about “looking forward to something with desire and reasonable confidence”; or to “believe, desire or trust” that something will happen. Hope, then, is akin to hedging an optimistic bet on the future. And there is strong evidence of its importance especially in children. Research suggests that children who are hopeful (Gilman, Dooley, & Florell, 2006; Snyder et al., 1997):
- Are more likely to attend and enjoy school;
- Do better at school;
- Have greater capacity for problem solving; and
- Have higher self esteem and confidence.
It’s about Baby Steps
It appears that hope is a product of both external circumstances and internal strength. On the internal front, there is growing evidence that our children’s sense of hope is tied to their ability to set realistic goals for themselves, their ability to consider various options in solving problems, and their belief in their ability to make things happen. (McDermott & Snyder, 1999).
What can Fathers do?
Here are some practical actions that fathers can take to cultivate an attitude of hope in children.
Focus them right on target
Les Brown said it best when he said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Having something to “shoot” for is an important first step in having hope. As adults, we often learn the hard way that when we don’t set goals, we often end up running around in circles, and feeling absolutely spent by the end of it. It is the same for children; more so as they hang on to little slivers of signs that there is something good and important to work for. Some ways we can help our children set goals include:
- Encouraging them to set milestones for things they’re excited about. It’s enough for them to say, “I want to learn more about dinosaurs”; what we want them to get at is a goal like “I want to learn the names of at least 30 dinosaurs”. That way, we can begin the process of checking off the names of dinosaurs, and using the momentum to keep them going.
- Helping them prioritise their goals. It is important for them to know that even as adults, we cannot do everything, and that it is critical to decide what’s more important to do. This ensures that they don’t get disappointed when they don’t achieve all their goals at the same time.
- Supporting them in setting goals that you can work towards together.
Keep them going
The term one-track mind is often used to describe human tendency to see the world in very narrow ways. The danger of this is we begin to ignore everything else around us. Children are more susceptible to this given their lack of lived experiences. It is all the more important, therefore, to help them explore different possibilities to the same problem. When we do this, we encourage in them a “keep going” attitude (Marques & Lopez, 2011). We can help our children to think in terms of multiple routes to a problem through:
- Helping them break their goals into smaller milestones.
- Helping them reframe “detours” as merely taking a different path to the same goal.
- Teaching them coping skills to deal with adversity.
- Reminding them that they can always ask for help.
Give them self-belief
The reality for all of us is that we are better at what we do when we believe we are capable of completing tasks we set for ourselves. We can build up our children’s sense of confidence in their abilities by:
- Making them sensitive to their talents and encouraging them to use them.
- Helping them with self-talk. Some children respond very well when they are able to “self soothe” or make sense of what is happening by talking themselves through a situation.
- Sharing stories about your own struggles and paths to overcome challenges.
- Encouraging them to see everything as a learning experience.
Of Hopes and Dreams
Children are naturally inclined to see the world as one filled with possibilities and excitement. More than anything else, our role as fathers, and as parents in general, is to keep the spark of discovery going for children, and to help them believe in the amazing prospects that lie ahead for them. As Pablo Picasso put it so aptly, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”.
Gilman, R., Dooley, J., & Florell, D. (2006). Relative levels of hope and their relationship with academic and psychological indicators among adolescents. Journal of Social and Clinicl Psychology, 25, 166-178.
Marques, S. C., & Lopez, S. J. (2011). Research-based practice: Building hope in our children. Communique, 40(3).
McDermott, D., & Snyder, C. R. (1999). Making hope happen. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
Padilla-Walker, L. & Day, R. (2012). Keep on keeping on, even when it’s hard!”: Predictors and outcomes of adolescent persistence. Journal of Early Adolescence, online, June 2012.
Snyder, C. R., Hoza, B., Pelham, W. E., Rapoff, M., Ware, L., Danovsky, M., & Stahl, K. J. (1997). The development and validation of the Children’s Hope Scale. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 22, 399-421.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
First published on 01-04-2013