Fostering hope: How to build resilience in youth

While some people may be more naturally hopeful than others, hopefulness isn’t just a matter of temperament. Like health, hope is affected by our context — our interpersonal, social, economic and political circumstances. What this means is that we can all help each other become more hopeful through our everyday interactions.

Hope is a verb: Something we do together

Behind the idea of hope in practice is a belief in the power of community. In other words, “We can’t do it alone.” Only with the support of others can we accomplish our goals, meet our needs and increase our well-being. The way we make this happen is by reducing isolation. When we reach out to others, we help foster hope — both for ourselves, and for those who need a hand when they can’t do it on their own.

Practicing hope in this way is something that may be familiar to parents/caregivers of young children. Reassuring them when they’re frustrated, soothing them when they’re hurt and supporting them to try again are big parts of every parent/caregiver’s day-to-day life. But as children get older, fostering hope can be more of a challenge. Older kids and teens may become suspicious or even dismissive of hopeful messages, believing instead that what they struggle with now, they’ll struggle with forever. This is common, but all it means is that we need to practice more hope and resilience. It’ll help to guide young people forward and overcome their obstacles.

Tips for fostering hope and resilience in young people

Practicing hope with young people is an ongoing process. In the following, you’ll find some different ways we can help foster resilience in young people.

In conversation

While listening

  • Listen actively: it’s easy to get into the habit of half-listening or starting to prepare a response while a young person is still explaining something. But by doing this, we miss out on a lot of what they’re telling us. By being an active listener instead — repeating back or “reflecting” what a young person has said by using phrases such as, “What I think you’re telling me is…” — you may be surprised by how much more productive and meaningful your conversations can be.
  • Respect and validate the young person’s experiences: when a young person describes their struggles to you, try to understand the wish or need behind it — that may help you appreciate what’s at stake for them. Most often, they’re expressing universal needs: the need to belong, to feel respected, to feel well and to succeed. What can a young person’s feelings of sadness, anger, fear or uncertainty tell them (and us) about what’s happening in their lives? What do their feelings say about their needs for wellness?
  • Practice empathy and be curious: we can start empathizing by trying to understand a young person’s frame of reference. How do they define their perceptions, goals, wishes and dreams? What does their problem or situation mean to them?

While talking

  • Avoid minimizing: responding to youth in a way that minimizes what they’re going through can often make them feel as if they aren’t understood or their problems aren’t respected. It’s important to acknowledge and respect the young person as they share their story.
  • Tailor responses according to a young person’s developmental age: simple reassurances often work well with younger children, especially when combined with gestures of affection. For older kids and teens, on the other hand, it’s a good idea to match your response to the complexity of the problem. A helpful response may begin with an acknowledgement that things aren’t simple, and then move on to helping the young person make sense of their problem and brainstorming together possible solutions and/or possible coping strategies to deal with how they’re feeling.

In a struggle

  • Slow down: as parents and caregivers, we instinctively try to take care of the young people in our lives. When our kids are stuck, we may jump quickly into problem-solving mode as a way to reassure them. But not all problems have a quick fix, and they’re not all within our child’s (or our own) control. Taking the time to listen to what the problem means to the young person is a helpful and validating act, promoting connection and positive coping. Building mental wellness, boosting confidence and strengthening coping skills can be a long process. Stick with it — be patient with yourself and your child.
  • Focus on strengths and skills: when a young person is struggling, pointing out the things they’re doing well can help them become hopeful that these strategies will help them deal successfully with future challenges. Complimenting kids and teens when they’ve been thoughtful, kind or insightful during situations they found challenging can also be helpful, and the more detailed the compliment, the better it is. For example: “I was really impressed with the way you handled yourself in that disagreement with your sibling. From the way you were asking questions, I could tell you were trying to understand things from their perspective and be respectful. That shows kindness and maturity.”
  • Facilitate connections: everyone benefits from human connection. Encouraging young people to talk to others (e.g. relatives, friends, teachers, guidance counsellors, Elders, online networks, etc.) about their struggles can help them build a support network that offers them a range of perspectives and types of assistance. Connecting with others who have made it through similar struggles can go a long way to facilitating the hope that, “I can get through this.”

In general

  • Encourage independence: building resilience can strengthen a young person’s ability to create meaning and fulfilment in their lives. When young people are able to take an active role in making decisions that affect them, they learn that they have some control over their environment. In this way, having choices — and the opportunity to try, fail and try again — teaches kids and teens how to be more hopeful.
  • Be a role model: young people learn how to “be” in the world from those around them. When we model behaviours and attitudes that support hope and well-being, the young people in our lives have the opportunity to learn from our example. Some of the things we can do to model hope and well-being include:
    • expressing a range of emotions and being OK with talking about them (even the hard ones)
    • supporting others who are struggling and letting others support us when we need help
    • being respectful and caring in our interactions with others
    • planning for the future, including setting short- and long-term goals
    • recognizing that life includes setbacks and disappointments by:
        • reflecting that it’s OK to make mistakes
        • apologizing when we’ve made a mistake
        • taking success and failure in stride
        • adapting goals to make them more achievable
    • demonstrating that all people have value by:
        • being non-judgmental and challenging prejudice
        • being curious about and interested in other people
        • valuing yourself
        • not making disrespectful/hurtful comments about others, even when they’re not around

Help is out there

If you know a young person who’s struggling with a problem, big or small, you can encourage them to contact Kids Help Phone for support. We’re available 24/7/365.

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