Developing a Sense of Purpose in Youth

Is it too early to talk about purpose with children?

What is your purpose in life? This is a big question. Even as an adult you may still be figuring it out, but are your students capable of answering this big question themselves? Absolutely. With a little guidance, that is.

 

Why is a sense of purpose important for children?

A sense of purpose is behind true, intrinsic motivation. Sure, you can motivate your students with Skittles, extra recess, or tickets to buy prizes, but those are short-term solutions. True motivation comes from within. Sadly, “Just some 20 percent of high school kids can be categorized as purposeful, according to Damon’s research; the rest vary between being motivated but lacking a plan, being active but lacking direction, and being neither active nor forward-thinking.”

 

Fostering skills for the purpose…

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that students who have a high sense of purpose usually also have good social and emotional skills as well.  Of course, we aren’t sure which came first, the chicken or the egg, (the skills or the purpose), but just knowing that correlation, along with the impact it can have on students’ motivation, is enough for us to take a closer look at how we can foster a sense of purpose in our students.

 

How do you define purpose?

Before we look at how we can foster this sense of purpose, let’s define what a sense of purpose is. A sense of purpose must come from within the child. It can’t come from teachers, the child’s parents, the principal, or their friends. A child finds their purpose through what matters to them. To be truly motivating, a child’s purpose must be important to them. They must decide what they want to be in life and how they want to contribute to the world. Of course, parents, teachers, and mentors can help connect the dots between how what they do today (ie. math class) will lead to future success in their area of interest (ie. becoming an astronaut) but the purpose is all their own. Making the Effort towards their goals comes from their sense of purpose and passion!

 


… a child finds their purpose through what matters to them!


 

It all starts with YOU

Aspiring to foster a sense of purpose in our students is a daunting task, but still a possible one. While this isn’t something that can be forced, it is something that can be encouraged. But how?

 

These few steps should make it easier:

 

At Home:
  • Teach Social and Emotional Skills: Because of the aforementioned correlation teaching social and emotional skills helps students develop empathy, a crucial piece of having a purpose beyond which YouTube show to choose that afternoon. For more on this check out our past blog here: 4 Tips and Tricks to teach empathy.
  • Learn about Inspirational People: Students of all ages can learn about inspirational people, from those in their community by learning about current events or having people come to visit them. They can also learn about historical figures to see a sense of purpose in action. Talk about modern day inspirational leaders and events as well during family meals or free time.
  • They matter: Kids need to know that what they do matters. They need to know that, even though they are small now, their choices and actions can have big consequences. One way to encourage this is to give them responsibility and discuss the consequences (for good or bad) of their follow through (or lack thereof.)
  • Variety: While some students may find that their purpose and goals match those of their friends, they are likely to be as unique as the children themselves. Be sure to expose students to a variety of areas that they can excel and make a difference in. Point out their gifts in art, writing, making friends, solving problems, etc.

 

& in the Classroom:
  • Inspire your students: Be an inspirational person yourself. Teachers are poised in a unique position to model their own sense of purpose. “Teachers, too, can provide students with examples of purpose in the ways they comport themselves in the classroom. I often mention to teachers that one golden (but too often neglected) opportunity to do this is to tell students why they chose to teach as a profession, what they find to be fulfilling about teaching, and what they hope to accomplish with their students. The point of doing this is not to persuade their students to become teachers (students will make their own occupational choices), but rather to demonstrate what it looks like for admired adults to pursue an occupation with purpose.”
  • Help Kids Discover Their Purpose: Listen to them, ask questions, and guide them based on their interests. Have students discuss and write about their purpose. Putting it in writing makes it more concrete for them.
  • Incorporate Student Interests into the Classroom: Whenever possible work their interests into the curriculum. Encourage them to read about their interests and provide access to books that will help them learn more to follow their purpose.

 

Be sure your students know that there are no limits to their dreams. They can accomplish much more than they may think they can. Encourage them to dream big. The bigger the dream, the better! It’s important at the end of the day your child or student feels they have the capacity to explore their passions and purpose. How can you help make this a reality for them?

 


By: Amy Curletto

Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.

Citations:

Flanagan, Linda. “How Parents Can Help Kids Develop A Sense Of Purpose.” KQED, 18 May 2017, www.kqed.org/mindshift/48013/how-parents-can-help-kids-develop-a-sense-of-purpose.

Damon, William. “How Can We Encourage a Sense of Purpose and Meaning Early in Life?” BQO, 20 Jan. 2016, www.bigquestionsonline.com/2014/12/09/how-can-encourage-sense-purpose-meaning-early-life/.


 


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