A sense of purpose is a powerful thing. It provides us with meaning; it helps guide our decisions and has a positive influence on our mental well-being.
Without a sense of purpose, we can easily find ourselves feeling lost, and we become more vulnerable to feelings of depression, boredom, frustration and pessimism. Many psychologists argue that there is a strong relationship between addiction and a lack of purpose.
Psychologist Vikor Frankl calls it the ‘existential vacuum’.
What does this have to do with children?
Our jobs as parents and educators are to help prepare children for life.
With a strong sense of purpose, we become more resilient; we can overcome challenges and bounce back faster after setbacks. According to William Damon of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, “Purpose is the number one, long-term motivator in life.”
Life seems easier; we embrace a more positive outlook on life bouncing out of bed in the morning, ready to tackle the day head-on. Characteristics that we want our children to have, qualities that we know we serve our children well as they head into adolescence.
While there is a lot to be grateful for and a lot of positive in the world, we must not be naive and think that our children are not going to face adversity at some point. Thanks to technology, things like bullying are now 24/7 and no longer reserved for the playground. There is more content that children can access.
How can we help our children find a sense of purpose?
Helping children develop a sense of purpose is not something that accomplished in an afternoon; it is something that is encouraged (authentically) overtime.
Lead by example – Be positive and share wisdom.
Having an optimistic mindset and actively working to instil that in children can help them adopt the same outlook. When faced with a challenge, teach them how to deal with it positively.
Talk with children regularly.
Regular conversations with children will offer hints about their values. Ask them about their opinions on everyday events or activities, or what they think about certain TV shows or commercials. By carefully listening to what children say and repeatedly asking them ‘why?’ we can learn what is important to them.
Let them to the work.
It can often be tempting to jump in and help children with their tasks. However, it is better to keep a distance and let children learn. Completing chores (at least while they are young) gives children a sense of accomplishment and pride.
Let them make decisions.
Let children make as many decisions as they can. Of course, please use good judgement here and not put children in danger, but this is the fastest way they will learn. They need to know that actions have consequences. By falling (from time to time), they will learn quickly how their choices affect their outcome.
Help them discover their purpose.
While this is easier said than done, parents and educators can help children find purpose based on their conversations and interests. Again really listening to what children have to say and repeatedly asking ‘why?’ can help guide them. Getting them to write it down can make it more concrete for them.
Helping children find a sense of purpose is a rewarding endeavour in itself. Knowing that another little human is as prepared as possible for what life has in store is a purpose all of its own.