How to Teach Children About Hope

By Kay Tang ; Updated April 18, 2017
Smiling young child
Smiling young child

Hope is a dynamic process -- the active pursuit of an objective -- not a static fantasy. It has three components: conceptualizing a goal, devising strategies to reach that goal and the ability to stay focused on the goal. Parents, coaches, teachers and other caretakers can help to cultivate the mechanisms of hope in children. By teaching your child about hope, your child may become more productive, happier and healthier.

Setting Goals

Begin by guiding your child on how to set age-appropriate goals that will excite and challenge her but not overwhelm her, according to “Research-Based Practice, Building Hope in Our Children” by Susana Marques and Shane Lopez on Communiqué. Have your child write down a list of goals in the different areas of her life -- school, home, job and extracurricular activities -- and prioritize them. If your child finds she’ll face too many hurdles pursuing one goal, direct her attention to another. Ask your child to create a timeline and markers for a goal, such as “Practicing piano an hour a day before my next concert.” In addition to self-oriented goals, encourage her to think of group-oriented goals.

Waypower as a Mindset

Once your child sets a goal, the next step in hopeful thinking is waypower, or the ability to figure out various ways to reach a goal, according to “The Great Big Book of Hope” by Diane McDermott and C.R. Snyder. A high waypower person finds several pathways. A low waypower person settles on one pathway and if that pathway doesn’t work, he gives up. Coach your child to create mental road maps to reach goals. Have your child figure out and list the different ways to achieve her goals. If the goal is too far-reaching, ask your child to think about subgoals or smaller sequential steps toward her big goal. Help her to acknowledge that she may have to acquire new skills to reach a certain goal.

The Role of Willpower

Willpower is the ability to stick to a resolution to achieve a goal, also known as agency thinking. It’s a firm belief that you’ll accomplish a goal and stay the course when the chips are down. If your child is personally motivated, it’s much stronger than pressure by you, her teacher or peers. Remind your child of her previous achievements and that she can stretch beyond them. Encourage her to record her self-talk, guiding her to replace self-defeating messages with positive can-do and will-try messages. Inspire your child by sharing stories of people who have overcome huge obstacles to achieve goals.

Dealing with Failure

A goal-oriented path may be pockmarked with failure and feeling bad. How a child deals with failure is the key to resilience. If she fails, she has two choices. She can act to change the situation or quit. Help your child deal with failure by encouraging them to try again and expressing confidence in her ability to succeed. However, you need to hold her accountable for any particular behavior that led to failure. Focus on the temporary nature and changeability of causes of failure as opposed to blaming in a global way. If she didn’t win a piano competition due to lack of practice, keep it positive by saying something hopeful such as, “With more practice, you may be able to win the next one.”

Encouraging the Younger Child

When a young child runs into barriers while pursuing a goal, you may have to step in with a helping hand, according to the "Psychology of Hope: You Can Get Here from There" by C.R. Snyder. Another tactic is to sit down with your child and make up a hero story together that mirrors your child's situation. Use a puppet to play the hero, exaggerate the hero's problems and make it funny. Humor can clear your child's mind of negative thoughts and ignite hope. Finally, just saying "You can do it" can lift a young child's spirit during a difficult time.

About the Author

Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.