Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More
Too many young people are lost when it comes to answering some of life’s largest questions: What I am good at? What are my gifts and abilities? What is my calling? What might I be able to contribute to the world? What am I here for?
Virtually all young people want to be competent in at least one thing to build their confidence. But, they need guidance from their parents and other adults to get clarity on what that might be.
Here are three ways to help your child sort out those questions and start making a difference in the world.
1. Share the purpose and the meaning you derive from your work.
Talk about what you find meaningful as it relates to your work. Go beyond the financial and material. This may take some thought on your part. When a child sees only material rewards from work, he or she can often miss the values and meaning that underlie the motivation for meaningful work. Our kids need to understand how work serves essential social needs and fulfills our personal sense of purpose.
When the deeper meaning for work is hidden or veiled it creates a breeding ground for apathy and cynicism. Without a positive grasp of work’s social and personal importance, your child will view work as an unpleasant but unavoidable burden. This doesn’t equip them to start life with a good work ethic.
It is motivating and inspiring for children to hear why their parents find their daily efforts significant. It is instructive as well. You might be surprise to know that it is not obvious to children that their parents actually take pride in contributing to the world. So, tell them.
2. Introduce your child to potential mentors.
Introduce your children to other adults who might create sparks of interest in them. For example, if your child is interested in pets, find a veterinarian who might allow your child to shadow them for a few hours to see what they do. Or, find a nearby horse stable and let your child volunteer a few hours a week. Or, find a local dog trainer and let them watch agility training and ask questions. Be creative and assertive.
Or, say your child likes to ride bikes. Help them learn to work on their own bike. Get to know the local bike store owner. Join a bike club, take a long bike ride, subscribe to a bike magazine; shop for new bike parts online, etc.
The idea is to generate momentum for what you’ve identified as an interest in your child by introducing them to others with an interest in that same area. Purposeful youth often look to people outside the home for the idea and inspiration that help them find their own purposes.
3. Cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit.
One of the defining features of highly purposeful youth is their entrepreneurial manner of pursuing objectives. This doesn’t mean your child has to start his or her own business. But rather you attempt to foster the mindset of entrepreneurs into your child.
Cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit means encouraging the following attitudes:
- Help your child set clear goals and make realistic plans to accomplish them. Make the goals challenging but achievable.
- Foster an optimistic, can-do-attitude. Show that you believe in your child’s capabilities. This builds their perception of what they are capable of doing.
- Encourage persistence in the face of obstacles and difficulties. Having to do something multiple times can be seen either as failure or practice. Emphasize the latter toward skill mastery.
- Build a tolerance – or even an appetite – for risk. An optimal challenge is a type of risk that stretches beyond what is comfortable but builds confidence because it is achievable. Stretch them too far and they give up; make it too easy and they become bored. An optimal challenge finds the right balance between the two.
You cannot magically motivate your child. You can create an environment where true intrinsic motivation is more likely to occur. Your child’s sense of purpose is formed through a succession of communications and interactions with you, other people and through the trial and error of their own efforts.
By giving them opportunities to explore their interests early in their life, they will have a much better idea of what intrinsically interests them. Through the exploration process they will also have developed skills and knowledge in those areas. Even if they do not go into that particular field of study in college or in their career, they are likely to be more aware of their values and what is meaningful to them. This can then guide them into choices of study and career that are in line with their values.