Quick … which song won an Academy Award for best song of the year in 1959?
If you know that trivia, congratulations! It was the song, High Hopes in the movie, Hole in the Head (not the most famous movie, I admit). The song became more popular after Frank Sinatra recorded it in 1961.
In the wake of the current turbulence, the lyrics seem banal:
Next time they find you, with your chin on the ground
There is a lot to learn, so take a look around you.
What is it that makes that little old ant
Do you think that rubber tree plant will move?
Anyone know that an ant cannot move a rubber tree plant,
But you have high hopes, you have high hopes …
And the ant probably can’t move a rubber tree plant on its own, but if you stay optimistic enough, your chance of success increases, because with a hopeful attitude, inspiration has a place to strike. And with hope, resilience reigns. Without it, despair can paralyze and delay effective solutions until they are paralyzed.
High hopes can seem like a myth when we look around us today at all the suffering, the defragmentation, the unhappiness and the fear, the terror and the paranoia. Yet brain research continues to accumulate data that hopeful people are more effective problem solvers. What’s more, it is very clear that what we pay attention to grows. And conversely, what we do not pay attention to shrinks. If we focus on our hope, our hope grows. If we are inundated with despair … well, that, of course, erases our hope.
Are we seeing our child’s strengths or are we overwhelmed by his lack of motivation? If we don’t pay attention to their strengths, they surely won’t grow and the motivation “problem” will surely increase. Are we noticing our daughter’s thoughtfulness or do we always comment on her bad mood? That is the way to grow a bad mood. The human brain is not a whimsical device that acts haphazardly. No, it acts according to a series of finely tuned principles. And one of those fundamental principles is that the focus of our attention span, to a large extent, creates the reality that we experience. This is not New Agers talk, although New Agers have capitalized on this fascinating aspect of our brain’s operating system. There has been a lot of academic research on the subject. In fact, Appreciative Inquiry, one of the cornerstones of the PCI coaching model is a process methodology that emerges from this research. Appreciative Inquiry itself has been researched to work powerfully because it applies strategies with the propensities of the human brain in mind.
The fact is, hope will grow if we pay attention to hopeful developments. Very soon, there will be more hopeful things to talk about and our talk will be filled with more hope. With more hope in front of us, we detect it in others and in our world more often and quickly. Before we know it, the negatives are shrinking from inattention and the positives have increased, almost like magic! Of course, then we become more hopeful … the upward spiral continues … more good things happen.
Our world greatly challenges us to direct our attention to the hopeful, to what life brings and improves. And I think it deeply affects our parenting. How can we stay focused on hope, the positives, and what works in our daily lives with our children?
Here are five considerations for raising hopeful children in tough times.
In their research, CR Synder (The Psychology of Hope, The Free Press, 1994) found these important indicators:
1. Hopeful parents know how to get what they want. They are determined and enjoy being entrepreneurial and flexible, especially in difficult times. Determination can be found in having a clear vision of what we want for our children and our families. Determination means having the mental energy and physical stamina to stay with a challenge long enough for an effective solution to occur. If we give up, we can be sure of being defeated. Your self-care is very important in helping you stay determined when the going gets tough. Pay attention to the signs of when you feel like giving up. Instead, think about what you can give yourself and your children that will focus on your inner strengths and enhance your perseverance.
2. Hopeful parents listen well. Listening and paying close attention to our children’s strengths increases our flexibility to change course if our parenting strategy is not getting the results we seek. We can often learn from our children what it takes once we follow our instincts and answer this question from our integrity: What will bring more life to this situation? Looking at our children from this perspective, we may suddenly find ourselves noticing many things we can do to give them a sense of accomplishment, to appreciate their talents in the moment, and to look forward to their future with hope.
3. Children see hopeful parents as successful. Hopeful parents seem to demonstrate their autonomy by feeling successful. This definition of success is not the one that seems to be the one that matters to our world: big house, big car, big money, etc. Rather, success is measured as “Having high self-esteem and positive self-images.” This affects children on many levels: Positive parents with high self-esteem develop hopeful, happy, and confident children with high self-esteem.
4. Hopeful parents comfort well. When things get upsetting or really difficult, hopeful parents comfort children and act supportively during high-stress situations. Being there emotionally is a characteristic of parents who have the most hope. You do not allow negative energies to affect your ability to be present and available to your children. They are able to keep negativity at bay so that children do not translate it as: “There is no time for me.” Anxiety-laden parents cannot be responsive to children’s emotional needs. Hopeful parents instill trust and openness in the parent-child communication process, keeping those doors open, even during adolescence!
5. Hopeful parents support children’s autonomy and competence. This does not mean that everything goes. What it does mean is that by focusing on what the child does well every day, over time, parents build a strong sense of self in the child. With that comes the conviction in the child of his talents and abilities. In the words of one of the Synder research kids: “The most important thing I remember about my parents is that they taught me to do things myself. But I always knew they were there for me if I got into trouble .. If I messed something up, they would talk to me and not to me. “
It seems that the bottom line of parenting with high hopes is that it can help us keep the best of ourselves, even in difficult times, and bring out the best in our children.
Then everything is possible … for us, our children … even our world.
Copyright Gloria DeGaetano, 2010. All rights reserved.