Fostering Hope

According to the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, “Hope is both the earliest and the most indispensable virtue inherent in the state of being alive. If life is to be sustained hope must remain, even where confidence is wounded, trust impaired.”  He taught that hope develops in infancy as babies are learning trust vs. mistrust.  Infants are dependent on caregivers to meet their needs.  When their needs are met, they learn trust.  When their needs are not immediately met, they learn mistrust.  A child who is nurtured well and experiences and successfully resolves the stage of trust vs. mistrust develops hope.
What a sweet notion that is!  A baby cries and we attend to her needs so she develops hope.  She has hope that she will be helped when needed, cared for and nurtured.  That hope, an attitude related to optimism, confidence and self-motivation, has to continue to be fostered beyond infancy.  It does, however, need to have its roots planted in achievable goals and real world possibilities.

Early learners have trouble differentiating between fantasy and reality.  This place – somewhere between real and magical – feeds hope because it is a world in which young children believe anything can happen.  They don’t really understand that reality has a boundary.  A preschool student asked me if unicorns are real.  I had to come up with an answer that was truthful, helped her to find the reality boundary but didn’t destroy her early childhood right to mentally live in that world filled with tooth fairies, Santa Claus, princes and princesses.  I told her that unicorns are in our pretend.  You won’t see one in a zoo or running around in nature but they are fun to pretend and imagine.  She smiled and skipped away.  It was the look of a child who still had her hope and optimism. 

When children are doing the hard work of their early years – learning to be a part of a class, follow directions and rules, being introduced to writing and reading, we need to ensure that we do not strip them of hope.  We need to foster their belief that they will be helped, cared for and nurtured.  When we ask them to do that which they are not developmentally ready for, we chip away at their optimism and confidence.  We take a little piece of hope from them.  When we make them wrong too often by critiquing their early attempts at new skills, another piece of hope falls away.  You may not see the pieces of hope missing right away.  Bit by bit, piece by piece it changes them over time.  They become less sure of themselves.  They develop a belief that adults are there to criticize and not nurture.  They feel that no one can really help them.  The loss of hope is slow and sad and will impact their teen and adult years.

You cannot freeze time and keep your children from discovering that the tooth fairy and Santa aren’t real.  You can help to foster hope in a more mature way.  You can be careful in your interactions and in the approaches to learning that your children encounter.  You can choose to nurture and accept who your children are at every stage.  You can make an intentional effort to ensure that your child is raised and taught in an environment that values the delicacy and necessity of hope.

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