Adults often think of children as hopeful little creatures, but as they grow, that hope can twist and change. Outside influences introduce our maturing children to cynicism, self-doubt and skepticism. So how can we teach our children to look toward the future with hope when they are faced with such a negative world?

Teaching children hope has been a somewhat recent topic for psychologists and professionals to tackle. But who knew it was something we needed to teach our youth? Doesn’t it come pre-installed? Perhaps, but the ability to tear it down limb by limb also looms large.

The late professor and researcher Dr. C.R. Snyder was the father of the Hope Theory and author of multiple books on learning and maintaining hope.

The Hope Theory says, “Hope is defined as the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways.”

According to Snyder, a child needs three things to remain hopeful. Goals, willpower, and waypower. A goal can be as simple as getting a new toy, all the way up to what a child wants to be when they grow up. Willpower translates to the energy needed to pursue the goal, and waypower being the path you can find to reach the goals set.

Beth Venable, a licensed therapist with UpstateFORT in Clemson, said the key to instilling hope is to empower a child to grow and learn. And the way to do that is to foster connections between family members and teach children to make better choices.

“You want to develop self-agency in a child so they can impact the world,” she said.

Self-agency, according to Venable, is when someone can look at their path and say, “I have the ability to influence my circumstances.” It is the skill for someone to face a challenge head on and know they can have a positive impact on the outcome.

For parents trying to raise competent youths, the key is to guide children, not do for them. When parents tell children how to solve a problem, children lose the opportunity for self-agency. Instead, Venable said parents should offer their children options or pose questions to help them come to the right conclusion on their own.

“Instead of punishing them for harsh words or an action, we can give them the chance to try again and make the right choice,” she said. “This empowers kids to make their own good decisions later.”

And as simple as that sounds, it can help today’s children and adolescents feel hope for what their future holds. As far as Snyder’s Hope Theory goes, parents can easily aid their children as they build hope. Talking about their goals and being excited about their dreams is a key first step.

As for willpower, Venable said parents can often give an external way to help their children have that energy to reach their goals. She likened it to rewarding children with a sticker for using the potty or earning money to finally buy that new bike.

“It’s about giving them the ability to move forward to the next step,” she said.

Finally, the waypower, the path, to reach their goals could be as simple as encouraging children to keep going through hard times. Empowering them by sparking their passion, offering guidance as needed, and aiding them in channeling their ideas can help them keep the hope alive.

“Do we need to teach them hope? We need to build their capability to build their hope,” Venable said.

Hope is something we all want to have a hold on. A loving environment, receiving encouragement, and having helping hands along the way all go a long way in giving children what they need to reach for the stars.

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