Raising a Hopeful Child

Raising a Hopeful Child, p.4

A hopeful child, therefore, is both optimistic (expecting the best) and determined (capable of treating adversity as a challenge rather than as the end of the road). One important way to instill these qualities in your child is simply by spending time with her. The security given by a strong attachment early in life will give your child the confidence to aim high later on. For parents who work outside the home and for those who are divorced, it can require some tough choices between career and kids, as Charlie Brennan, a Denver journalist and then-divorced dad, recalls.

Three years ago, Brennan had taken a week off work to spend time with his teenage daughter Casey, who was visiting during her spring break. Then the Columbine shootings happened. It was all-hands-on-deck at his newspaper, but with his editor's support, Brennan stayed home. "Psychologists were saying that Columbine showed how important it is to listen to our kids," he says. "It would have been ironic if I'd said, 'See you in three days.' So I stayed home and we digested it together."

At each stage of your child's development, you can foster hope, notes Dr. Snyder. By answering your toddler's "what's this?" or "why?" questions, you enrich his ability to describe his desires, which is the first step to achieving them. By helping your child set "stretch goals," you teach him to enjoy challenges. When walking with his 2-year-old, Bruce Nichols, a book editor in New York City, says to him: "Now we're going to this lamppost, now to this one, and now to the corner." Then they celebrate each little achievement. "Yes, it's easier to pick Sammy up," Nichols says, "but then we'd be doing the walking for him."

Another way to teach hopeful thinking, though you may not think to call it that, is by reading to your child. Besides spurring a child's language development, stories often have a theme of hope. Evelyn Goldstein, a small-business consultant in Silver Spring, MD, says the story her 4-year-old often asks for again and again is "The Three Billy Goats Gruff." Together, mother and son play out the tale. "For Luis, there's no question that he'll be the big, powerful goat," says Goldstein.

As your child grows, help her brainstorm multiple solutions or practice a conversation ahead of time. If she's too shy to speak to her teacher about a problem, for example, you can help her rehearse what she'll say. When she experiences failure, you can stress that rather than lacking talent, she just didn't use the right strategy. Hopeful children "live life like detectives trying to solve a mystery," says Dr. Snyder. "When a detective tries a strategy and it doesn't work, he doesn't say, 'I'm stupid.' He says instead, 'That lead didn't go anywhere.' Then he looks for another clue."

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