Motherly Collective

Content warning: Discussion of suicidal ideation and suicide ahead.

Every mother wants what’s best for her child, but anxiety, depression and loneliness in kids are at an all-time high. Recent CDC reports indicate 57% of teen girls felt persistent hopelessness and 25% of teen girls made a suicide plan in 2021. Hopelessness is the single consistent predictor of suicidal ideation and completed suicide, which is every parent’s worst nightmare. Hopelessness is also linked to many other negative outcomes, such as mental illness, violence, and chronic health conditions. But how do you give someone hope?

For me, this work is personal. My dad died by suicide when I was 18 and I had my own attempt in my 20s. I needed to understand the cause of suicide—and the literature consistently points to hopelessness. I started my journey in mental health advocacy 20 years ago, and since then, my work has evolved from figuring out what hopelessness is to learning how to activate its antidote: hope. After working with the leading experts in Hope Science, I hypothesized that we could teach hope to kids—and then I set out to research and prove that my hypothesis was correct. 

From that research I created the first free, global hope curriculum called Hopeful Minds, and proved my theory that hope is teachable. 

Now I’m on a mission to spread the message that hope is a skill that can be measured, taught and learned. 

Research shows that higher levels of hope are associated with better academic performance, improved mental health, less stress, resilience, better social connections and less loneliness. Hopeful individuals are also more likely to set and pursue goals, take healthy risks and overcome obstacles. And what mom doesn’t want that for their kids? 

5 ways parents can teach kids about hope

There’s an easy way to help parents boost hope in their kids: It’s called the Five Keys to SHINE Hope, and it’s a simple mnemonic that stands for Stress Skills, Happiness Habits, Inspired Actions, Nourishing Networks, and Eliminating Challenges. Here’s a quick breakdown. I also developed a free Parent’s Guide to help parents teach their kids how to hope at home—because I believe having the skills to move from hopelessness to hope is a human right. 

1. Teaching stress skills

Stress Skills are tools that kids can use to manage and handle stressful situations by addressing their body’s natural response to external stimuli. One of the valuable Stress Skills we teach in the Hopeful Minds program is Deep Belly Breathing, which involves taking slow and deep breaths for a minimum of 90 seconds. Helping kids grasp the significance of this duration is crucial, as it’s the amount of time needed for their bodies to relax and regain composure after being emotionally triggered.

2. Supporting happiness habits

Positive feelings play a vital role in nurturing a hopeful mindset and motivating kids to pursue their goals. As parents, we can support our children in cultivating these positive emotions by engaging in happiness habits, such as expressing gratitude, going for walks outdoors, playing games and spending quality time with loved ones. Encouraging activities that bring happiness to your child’s heart can contribute to their long-term well-being and contentment.

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3. Prioritizing inspired actions

Inspired actions are purposeful strides taken towards achieving goals, to motivate your child to establish their own aspirations. Teach them that encountering obstacles along the way is natural, and sometimes the original goal may need adjustment, which is perfectly fine. Encourage them to embrace these challenges, adapt and seek assistance when needed. If a goal feels overwhelming, break it down into smaller, manageable tasks by using step-by-step progression or creating micro-goals. 

4. Creating nourishing networks

The Nourishing Network consists of individuals whom your child can rely on when they feel lonely or overwhelmed, providing encouragement and support. It is crucial for your child to be able to recognize at least one person in their life with whom they feel safe opening up to during times of distress. Collaborate with your child to identify trustworthy individuals both at school and at home, and jot down their names on paper as a reminder that they have a support system and people to turn to when they feel isolated.

5. Eliminating challenges

We’re all about teaming up with kids to tackle life’s challenges and come up with plans to overcome them. One challenge we address is dealing with things beyond our control, which often leads to unnecessary stress. Parents can teach kids to prioritize what they can control and let go of the rest, using stress skills as a helpful tool for releasing control over the uncontrollable.

How to measure hope and mental health

Wondering where your child lands right now when it comes to hope? There’s an easy way to find out—take the Snyder Hope Scale Assessment.

By measuring your child’s hope, you can track their hope journey, monitor their progress, and reflect on how hopeful they are in the current moment. Hope is not fixed; when you practice hope skills, you can improve your hope score. There’s also an adult scale assessment to measure your own level of hope.

It’s important to know that these are just starting points—we’ve created multiple free curriculums that help individuals of all ages develop their hope skills and foster a Hopeful Mindset. We also have a Hopeful Mindsets Overview course, which is perfect for parents, and our Hopeful Mindsets course for college students. 

By focusing on these five keys, you can help your kids (and yourself) manage stress, form healthy habits, take steps towards your goals, build supportive networks and get rid of negative thoughts that can lead to feeling hopeless.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.