Cultivating the Power of Hope in Your Family
October 18, 2021
[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to The Art of Raising Humans podcast. I’m your host Kyle Wester.
[Sara]: I'm your co-host Sara Wester.
[Kyle]: And today we want to delve into the topic of hope. You know, Sara, I was really excited about getting to talk about this with you, because it's something that you have definitely researched so much more than I have and it was really cool watching you be able to do some of this research with Dr. Chan Hellman, as he wrote his book on hope, as he is doing so much great work on this topic and I was thinking, as you and I were discussing things we wanted to talk about in this podcast, I thought “what a time in this world to talk about hope”. I mean, you know, in the private practice, I tell you, I’m seeing a lot of kids that don't seem to have a lot of hope, you know? Where you and I, when we went into-- as we were growing up, you and I just had this kind of mindset that our parents’ kind of were like, “you're gonna go to high school, you're gonna graduate, you're gonna go to college, you're gonna get a degree” and even though it sounded really simple, you know, you and I were discussing this, it was much more complicated than that [Laughter] It was hard to figure out.
[Kyle]: I remember my freshman year I wanted to kind of drop out of college, because I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do and I know you changed degrees and everything as well, you know, to get there and eventually, we stumbled upon this thing that we loved, right? But this wasn't until, what? Late 20s? Yeah?
[Sara]: Yeah, it's moving.
[Kyle]: Yeah, late 20s, and also and we finally were like “okay, I think we like this, you know?” and we both became counselors and all that kind of stuff, right? But I see a lot of kids these days without hope, because they just see a crazy world, you know? They just witnessed and have been participating in a pandemic throughout the entire world, something that you and I, we just learned about the Spanish flu, like two years ago [Laughter] We're like “what if that ever happened!?” and then something like that did start to happen and we're like “this is insane!” and then the kids I’m seeing, they don't see the same pathway like you and I even going to college, maybe that was a given somewhat for us that we wanted to do that, but for them, college costs way more than even you and I had to pay for it, right? And so, they're looking at that cost/benefit ratio and I just see many, many teenagers and even younger kids down into like elementary age, fourth or fifth, just feeling a sense of hopelessness, okay?
[Kyle]: So, I wanted to ask you this idea of raising kids with hope. So, my first thought was, how do you help build hope in children during these difficult times?
[Sara]: Okay. Well, I’m gonna back up a bit and explain what hope is.
[Kyle]: That sounds like a great idea.
[Sara]: Okay, because I think we all have this idea. So, the hope we're talking about may be a little different, we use hope and wish differently like “oh, I hope it doesn't rain today!”, that's really more like “oh, I wish it doesn't rain today”, because I have no control over the weather and what it's going to do. So, there is that version of hope, but the hope we're talking about today is a science of hope and hope is the thing inside of you that believes you can set a goal and there are barriers that are going to come up, but you can find the pathways to reaching your goal; that's the hope we're talking about today.
[Sara]: And what-- When I started learning about hope and working with Dr. Hallman, it was amazing to me just how important hope was in our lives. It's what predicts how well you will do in life, it's just the most important part of how I’m going to be resilient in the face of a hard time and right now, we are having such a hard time.
[Sara]: And we know as parents, you wish you could remove all the hard times for your kids, but you know that's impossible, they're gonna have hard times, it's part of just being human; we face hard things and you look at your child, you know-- I mean, I remember holding my babies and just wanting to make the world dreamy for them. If I could just clear all out, all the challenges and the hard things and I just want to protect them from it and that's impossible. So, I also, I worked with kids who had just seen the worst in people and have been abused and really horrific situations and you look at them you think, “how are they going to overcome this? This is a three-year-old, this is an eight-year-old. How can I give them the resiliency?” And what I learned was the hope they needed to be able to carry on in life and have a beautiful future and know that with confidence.
[Sara]: And so, that's the hope we're talking about and we know we need hope, because that's what's going to build that resiliency in kids, that in the face of something really terrible, they can get through it, they can still achieve those goals that they're aiming for, that they want.
[Kyle]: So, when you say resiliency, I’m picturing this idea of when we get knocked down, the ability to get back up. Right? That throughout life, life is going to throw punches at us. We are going to fall down pitfalls or cliffs or whatever it is, right?
[Sara]: You'll lose a job; you'll break up with someone.
[Kyle]: Oh my gosh, yes, break ups suck! [Laughter]
[Sara]: Someone can die.
[Sara]: I mean, something horrible can happen to you.
[Kyle]: Even to a kid like, losing a pet and those kinds of things, right? I mean, I know several kids that I’ve been helping with have lost a parent, you know? And that's a gigantic hit, right? So, what you're saying to me is that hope is at the core of the ability for that kid to be able to bounce back.
[Sara]: Yeah, and carry on and have a bright future and be confident they're going to have a bright future.
[Kyle]: So, how can a parent, knowing about the science of hope, help them be a more effective parent? Why would that be helpful to a parent to know that?
[Sara]: If they-- I think it starts with the parent, I’m gonna just kind of go off here. The parent has to understand hope in themselves and really look at-- take an honest look at themselves and say “Where am I at with hope? Do I have the ability to set goals? How have I done with that in my life? How do I approach it when a barrier comes up and makes it really hard to achieve that goal, sometimes maybe makes that goal not attainable? What do I do about that barrier? How can I find other pathways? Am I good at that? Do I know how to find--? Well, if I can't go this way to achieve that goal, then maybe I can find a different route. How do I do that in my own life?” and a big part of hope is also having the motivation, because we get knocked down and then we just sometimes want to stay down.
[Sara]: So, where do we turn to? What do we do to get back up and find another pathway, set another goal, keep going forward? So, I think we-- so I think I take for me, I started doing that in my own life. I started thinking “what are my goals at work? What are my goals with Kyle? What my goals at being a parent with my child? What's my goal for our relationship? How am I getting to that goal with my child?”. So, I looked at it from a very-- I think we do the best things in life when we take them and really take them inside of ourselves and embrace it and work towards it, and knowing that this was very important, if I wanted a beautiful life, then I’ve got to think about this. I mean, studies-- We did all the research, all the research was done, you can read about it, you can look at it and see how important this is. So, then I began to think “okay, I want to increase hope in myself”. It's not a flat thing, you're not given two tokens of hope and that's what you have for your life, it's actually something you can build.
[Sara]: So, I want to build it in myself and then, I can give that to my child. So, then I’m going to look at them and I’m going to look at their-- what's going on in their lives and just start taking being curious about what's going on internally inside of them when they face a problem. I don't care if it was my two-year-old during a tantrum, I can look at that and say “what goal does my two-year-old have? Maybe it's the toy at the store, you know? The cookie. What's their goal? What barrier? What has come up?” and then, “how can I help them with this?”.
[Kyle]: So, you're using a few words, just to clarify, you're saying there's goal setting and then there's barriers to achieving those goals and then you also use pathways.
[Sara]: Yeah. There's three parts of hope, the kind of hope we're talking about it's, one, you have to have a goal. So, it's the ability to say “this is what I want in life”.
[Kyle]: What's an example of goal? Like, I was thinking when you said “I want to be less angry” [Laughter] “I want to not yell as much”. Would that be a goal?
[Sara]: And there's actually, I mean, there's a whole lot to hope I won't get into, but you can have a goal that's an avoidant goal.Or it's an approach goal.
[Sara]: So, in your case, you're saying “I want to avoid anger”.
[Kyle]: Okay [Laughter] “I want to feel more peaceful”. Okay. “I want to be more peaceful with my kids." Okay, approach goal.
[Sara]: I mean, it's just sort of a curiosity, it's really interesting when you start looking at your goals and go “wow, I set a lot of avoiding goals” or “I set a lot of approach goals”. So, that's just sort of an interesting thing to notice about yourself. So, we have the goals, but then we have to have ways to get to the goal and those are often called pathways, right? So, if I have the goal of being peaceful, then I might think “well, I’m going to wake up and do yoga every morning. I’m going to take-- I’m going to count to 10. I’m going to take deep breaths. I’m going to do these things to achieve peace”. Then, the barriers that I’m talking about, those are the things that pop up that interfere. If I wake up and I have “I’m gonna do yoga that day and I’m gonna have, you know, I’m gonna do these wonderful things to be a peaceful person”, but power went out, my alarm goes off late, I’m gonna be late to work, the kids don't have their lunches, and all this stuff comes up; those would be the barriers that stop me from reaching my goal and I could just throw it all up in the air and say “forget it! I’m just going to be an angry person today!” or I can say “all right, I still have the same goal, but I’m going to have to find different pathways to doing that”, and so, that's the--
[Kyle]: Well, the example that came to me when you're saying that was, when Abby was little and we were doing some homeschooling stuff with her, and I remember you had gone to work and it was my job to be the teacher and I said to Abby “hey, let's stop playing”. I think she was five or something like that. So, Brennan, her younger brother, wasn't even doing school, but I said “Abby, we gotta stop playing, you need to do school” and Abby started to throw a fit and I immediately started getting upset and I was like “come on!” like, I’m trying to get some work done, I want her to just-- in my mind I wanted Abby just to be like “yay! School! Let's do it!”, you know? And then Abby and I, we embraced the skills we learned, we both regulated ourselves, we both calmed ourselves down and then I asked Abby, I said “hey, honey, what are we going to do? Like, we still are going to do school” and she said “I don't actually mind doing school, I just didn't want to do school by myself”. So, she said “could you put your iPad next to my stuff when I’m doing my schoolwork? Because I just don't want to be alone in it” and that was really interesting, it was like, I had this idea of what she was trying to achieve, I thought her goal was to avoid school, but really that wasn't her goal at all, her goal was actually to just not do school alone, you know?
[Kyle]: And so, then she came up with her own pathway, right? To then get there by asking me. Yeah, that a good example of what you're saying.
[Sara]: Yeah, that is an example and with the barriers, you were kind of touching on this, it's our motivation. So, you could have somebody who has all the pathways in the world, the goal is clearly before them, yet they're just lying on the couch.
[Sara]: And that's the motivation, that's the-- But you especially see that, if the road is clear people will generally go down the road, but once a barrier hits, some people are easily knocked down by that barrier.
[Kyle]: So, you said, if you saw--
[Sara]: They just have a loss of motivation.
[Kyle]: So, the loss of motivation is them being overwhelmed by the barriers, possibly?
[Sara]: And sometimes maybe the goal was set for them and it's not really a goal they want.
[Kyle]: That's a real common way, yeah.
[Sara]: So, then they lack motivation.
[Kyle]: Maybe parents have said “you're gonna get all A's for the year” and then the kid doesn't seem to be motivated, so then parents start to get afraid and they start trying to make the kid achieve that goal, right?
[Kyle]: And so, the kid resistance to that is the kid never set their own goal, right?
[Sara]: I think as parents we often-- we have to own the fact that we have a lot of goals set for our children and that doesn't mean the child buys into the goal and that it's their goal as well. It may be our goal for them, not their goal for themselves.
[Kyle]: So, what I also hear you saying is, the science of hope can also help me like, in that moment if a kid's not wanting to do the schoolwork or the homework, real common conflict. It's not helpful to just think the kids lazy, defiant, all that stuff, right? Like, there the science of hope would say “if they're not moving towards the goal, maybe I need to reassess the goal setting”, right?
[Kyle]: Maybe they don't feel confident they could achieve that goal, right? Maybe there's barriers. Maybe in the chaos of the home it's really hard to do the work, so they'd rather just shut it out and do, you know, watch TV or watch a YouTube video or something, right? Okay. So, really if I come at them with the signs of hope, I’m not really once again against them, I’m for them and helping them grow hope within them, that they could achieve the goal.
[Sara]: Yeah, I think it helps us break things down, because sometimes you look at your kid and go “why aren't you getting the grades? Why are you avoiding homework? What is going on here? Don't you see you have to do this because you want to go to college, because you want a job, you want to have a house someday and a car and this is the pathway to that? And why aren't you doing this?” and so, it kind of pulls everything back for a parent and they can go “okay, here's my pieces, do they have a goal? Is this their goal? Do they have the way to get there, to their goal? Do they have the motivation? Is something blocking them from reaching the goal?”. It just raises this curiosity inside of a parent, in this way that feels very tangible to me, because sometimes you can look at it and go “it just feels like so much”. You've tried and tried and tried, but this breaks it down for you and gives you a way inside yourself and inside of your child to go “all right, what's the missing piece of the puzzle here?”
[Kyle]: What would you say to a parent that's feeling hopeless about where they're now at in their parenting journey? And what I’m thinking of as parents who get, you know, get really hopeless that they've already messed things up way too much, right?
[Kyle]: And so, what would you say to a parent who's feeling that?
[Sara]: Well, I would say “good news! that's not true!”, that you can turn the ship. The really beautiful thing about relationships is things can change and they're dynamic, they're not fixed. So, you don't get it to a point where it's just fixed and it's all over and you can use this very same thing to look at your own levels of hope, because you're describing to me someone who doesn't have hope for the relationship.
[Sara]: And that was something I really enjoyed studying, not just “what are your goals for a job?” or “goals for your kid cleaning their room” or something, those sorts of things, but what can--? We also have hope inside of a relationship, what is my hope for having a good relationship with you? And that was always the more intriguing part of hope for me. You can see where maybe you look at your child and your child, you just feel this distance and maybe your child lacks the hope to feel like it can be a good relationship with you and that's just crushing, right? That's just “oh, that hurts”, but the nice-- the beautiful thing about hope is it's something that can grow and we can lend hope to other people when they don't have it. Hope happens inside of a relationship.
[Kyle]: I think you and I have seen it happen just with clients, right? Sometimes client comes in completely hopeless and then, all off a sudden, they connect with us and you can see it, you can see a shift; hope just grew. They walked out, now they are no longer overwhelmed with that problem than the way they were before, right?
[Sara]: Well, you can say “here, I know right now you don't have the hope, but I have seen it happen before. So, here, take some of my hope, this can be different for you”.
[Kyle]: So, practical steps that you would give for parents to help their kids be more hopeful about their futures. So, let's say the kids like, “why do all this? Why does it matter? I mean, I don't doesn't seem to matter, I mean, I just keep failing, I just--”, you know, whatever the negativity is. The parents seeing them not moving forward, they're confused about that, you know, that they don't seem to think their future is good. What's some practical ways the parent could help grow hope in their kid?
[Sara]: Make sure that you start with you, start with your own levels of hope, and how hopeful are you for your child, and what are you doing in your own life? So, I mean, to me a big part of parenting goes back to you as a person, it starts with us and then we can move into what we're doing with our child, what we're trying to do with our child, but you know, same with, “if I’m a super anxious scared terrified person, it's gonna be really hard for me to create calm for my child, I have to start by calming myself and then, I can give that to my child”. So, hope is the same way, the really neat thing about hope, it's something that happens in relationship and one of the biggest predictors of hope for a child, is the relationship with their parent or a caregiver. It doesn't have to be their parent, but someone in their life.
[Sara]: So, you have the ability to be that person in your child's life and it can start today, it doesn't matter if the last 15 years it wasn't there, it's something that you can start doing now. You can start taking action towards that and so, when you build that inside of yourself, then you can start giving it to your child. You can build that relationship, build it to a place where you can talk about their goals and what's blocking their goals, what pathways you can-- Give them the skills to find other pathways to go down different roads and to reach these goals.
[Sara]: But you have to be very open to their goals, because they might not always line up with yours. So, it takes some takes some trust there, it takes some work conversations.
[Kyle]: Yeah. I think when you and I were talking about it too, the thing I was also thinking about like you just said, “I’ve got to have hope in myself as the parent that this is gonna work out”. Yeah, I think, when I’m approaching the kid’s future anxiously or afraid of their future, I just like, feed that monster in the kid, you know? The kids looking at my eyes going “I don't think you think this is gonna turn out good” [Laughter]. So, I’ve got to believe in me that the kid can, right? That the future is good and that's gonna then help me be able to have that better connection with them where they go, “well, at least you believe it can be”, you know? And if you do, maybe I can borrow from that, right?
[Sara]: Yeah. We just can't always catastrophize, just take a second to breathe, step back, things are not always the emergency we think they are.
[Kyle]: And you use the word catastrophizing, I was also thinking on you said something else that doesn't help, is just like, heaping praise on the kid, you know? We're not talking about building hope by like “you're great though! Everyone's always said you're great! They said you're smart! You know, your teacher in fifth grade said you're like the smartest kid they've ever met, right?”. All that's not helpful, right? It's really about this authentic vulnerable relationship you have with your kid, where they know you love them and accept them just as they are and also believe in the hope, and believe and hope that they can make something of their life, right?
[Sara]: Yeah. Let's say that like, the eighth grader who's failing or something [Laughter] You don’t have to be a-- You have to see in them, they've got perseverance somewhere. They maybe, you know, we're talking maybe in skateboarding, it may be, they've got it somewhere and so, you want to notice that in them, that you've got it here, you persevere and so just notice the qualities in them that one day they do sit down and do homework. Notice how they persevered, it was it's so hard for you to do homework and you sat down and did it.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, I like that, it's more encouraging rather than praising, you know? And we could do a whole other podcast on that. I want to end with this idea of growth mindset, which you said, at some point we will do another podcast about growth mindset, but how growth mindset helps a lot in this situation, I know specifically I’ve heard you say to the kids and something I’ve adopted and I say to the kids and try to encourage other parents to is, when they say “well, I can't learn that, all right? I don't know how to do that”. Is something simple as like, “you haven't learned it yet” or “you don't know how to do it yet”.
[Kyle]: It's a real important distinction, because then it says “oh, yeah. Well, maybe I could learn in the future, right?” You know, where you haven't accomplished that yet, that may be something that could go on. So, any other little growth mindset tips at all?
[Sara]: Yeah, growth minds real, I mean, I would love to do a podcast on it because it's something that's just really-- a lovely thing and I like doing it with our kids, I like doing it with myself.
[Sara]: But growth mindset is just the knowledge, we used to think the brain was a little more fixed than it is, but now we know that for your whole lifetime, the brain is changing, it's sort of like a plastic, they'll say, but it's a changing and growing thing and so, to say “I can't do that”, that's coming from a fixed mindset and your brain kind of believes what you tell it and growth mindset say it says “I can't do that yet”. So, then your brain goes “oh, okay, we just can't do it yet guys. We can--”. You know, it's open to growth, it's open to learning. So, it's also the big idea of just mistakes aren't something we always want to avoid, mistakes are growth and learning opportunities. So, we live this life of “oh, don't make a mistake! Don't do that! You got to do it right! Got to do it right!” but it takes all that pressure off and just says “that's how we learn, you watch babies. They get up, they fall down, they get up, they fall down, they get up, they fall down, countless times and one day, they're walking.
[Sara]: So, they're kind of born with this growth mindset, they don't fall down go well.
[Kyle]: Can't do it.
[Sara]: It’s not for me, I tried, I hold down.
[Kyle]: I’m out, I’m crawling. [Laughter]
[Sara]: [Laughter] Clearly not a walker, but when we grow up, we kind of do that, we'll give something a go and “oh well, I can't do it” and so, growth mindset says “just getting behind the idea of--”
[Kyle]: I think this podcast is an idea of growth mindset, the business, right? For the longest time we're like “we could never be entrepreneurs, we could never run our business” [Laughter]
[Sara]: “I’m not a podcaster”. [Laughter]
[Kyle]: “This is never gonna work!” and yet we're doing it, right?
[Kyle]: So, so glad you guys listened, once again I want to ask you to get on there, please, you know, subscribe, share, definitely comment, review, help us get up to whatever, you know, the ratings so some more people have access to this helpful information and we hope it helped you. So, definitely send us some comments, questions that maybe we can use in future podcasts, okay? So, thank you for this discussion with hope, thank you Sara for teaching us so much about it, I really learned a lot today just in talking to you. I know we've chatted about it, but it's fun to just to hear you go off on it. So, you guys all have a wonderful day and look forward to talking to you soon.