Helping Children Create a Meaningful Life​

A little while ago I ran across an interview with Emily Esfahani Smith, author of the recently published book The Power of Meaning: Creating a Life That Matters.


The author says there are four pillars of meaning (belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence). In the interview, she discusses how adults can help children build meaning in their lives, and emphasizes two pillars that she believes are particularly important for children: belonging and purpose. I would argue they are all vital to children, but I am going to focus on these two here.


So much of the struggles children face in school are related to belonging: they do not want to be seen as different from other students. This is true for every student, but students with learning disabilities or differences may have a heightened experience of this. Some tell me they do not enjoy being pulled out of the classroom or going to a tutor for extra help because it highlights their difference.


I love what Esfahani Smith says about belonging: "With belonging, you want kids to develop humane relationships with one another to learn how to put other people first....Teaching children that belonging is about intrinsically valuing one another for who we are, not who we’re friends with, would go a long way to building a sounder and more healthy culture in schools."


Modeling for children, as much as possible, that they have intrinsic worth, is vital. Watch for ways in which you might unconsciously communicate that their value is tied to external things or other people, and instead let them know they have worth because they are alive on this planet. Repeat it often.


Motivation is tied to belonging, as Esfahani Smith points out. Observe if your child is motivated to do something because their peers do it or because they have an inner longing to do it. 


Esfahani Smith says, "There’s research showing that when high school and college students think about how they want to contribute to the world, they end up being more motivated and engaged academically."


I love that phrasing: how the student wants to contribute to the world. It could be that they want to contribute the most fantastically designed skateboard. Or, maybe they want to learn how to be a doula and help orphan children in Africa. Perhaps they want to be a forensic anthropologist. These are things I've heard my students talk about. Encourage these dreams and see where they might lead your child. 


And let me know how I might assist you with creating a sense of belonging and building motivation for your child. I often do this work with my students, and I'm more than happy to team up with you in this way.