You Gotta Have Hope

Hope is one of many positive psychological constructs that contribute to a person’s well-being. It is goal directed and it is the link between goals dreamed today and goals attained in the future. 

Hopeful individuals view themselves as being able to create paths to achieve their goals; they initiate steps toward achieving goals and sustain their course along a route to success. In short, if an individual identifies a goal, is able to identify multiple pathways to achieving the goal, and has the agency to move on those pathways and change pathways when faced with obstacles, they would have hope of reaching their goal.

Researchers have found that gifted students with high hopes achieve successful school-related outcomes, demonstrate higher success on standardized achievement tests, and set higher global academic goals and expectancies of success. Students with low hope have a higher occurrence of anxiety and self-doubt.

While children in America generally feel hopeful, all children do not have the same level of hopefulness. At times, gifted children can find themselves in settings that are socially and intellectually stagnant. Gifted students may have a hard time finding intellectual peers and stimulating cognitive challenges commensurate with their abilities in  a regular classroom. Therefore, school can seem hopeless without goal setting skills, without identifying paths to attain goals, and with low confidence toward accomplishing goals. Ideally, parents, teachers, and counselors should collaborate to help the child develop goal setting skills and to identify pathways that will lead to goal attainment.  As a team, they should create a plan and process in moving forward to support the child’s efforts toward accomplishing those goals.

Setting Goals

Teaching goal setting is foundational to assisting gifted children in their development of hopefulness. Gifted children need to be active participants in setting their own personal, social, and academic goals.  In early grades gifted students should be encouraged to set simple, clear, specific goals that move them toward getting something accomplished (approach goals) rather than avoiding something (avoidance goals). As the child ages, goal setting can become more complex. Listing and ranking goals helps students learn the skill of prioritizing.  Setting multiple goals should be encouraged in middle and high school, as multiple goals offer a fall-back position if students encounter a difficult obstacle. Students must also be taught how to identify and set markers of success. 

Developing Pathways Thinking

Parents and educators can help gifted students develop pathways thinking by breaking down larger goals into smaller components that are approached, and eventually completed, in a sequenced and logical way. Students should identify multiple routes to both small and large goals and practice overcoming obstacles. This teaches them to become flexible thinkers. When students become stuck, it’s important they do not attribute the inability to move forward to a lack of talent. Rather, students should see obstructions as pathways that do not work. If a pathway is identified as unfeasible, students must learn the skills to switch lanes and find alternate routes to take them toward their goal.

Developing Personal Meaning or "Agency” Thinking

It is essential that children set goals that are their own--with personal meaning--rather than assume the goals of their peers, teachers, or parents. Motivation, persistence, and performance are undermined if the goals are not personal. Gifted children should also set stretch goals, keep a journal of internal dialogue, and engage in team-related activities to foster personal meaning. In addition, developing memories of positive experiences, either through personal successes or by example of others, helps keep gifted children resilient when they face difficulty reaching their goals.

Positive Self-talk

An individual’s thoughts are the source of mood and emotion. Self-talk, the conversations you have with yourself can be destructive or beneficial. Gifted children should be taught to think positively and have strong positive beliefs about themselves. Possessing positive self-referential beliefs in situations of adversity are very important to the development of hopefulness in the gifted when they face obstacles in their day-to-day life and in their movement toward goal attainment. Those who are hopeful have an undercurrent of internal self-statements such, “I can,” “I’ll make it,” and “I won’t give up.” Hopeful individuals trust in themselves to be able to adjust to prospective trouble and losses.


Author's Note: Janette Boazman is the education chair and an associate professor in the Constantin College of Liberal Arts at University of Dallas.