by Ken Canfield, Ph.D.

Many of my recent thoughts about being a grandparent have returned to the idea of instilling hope in my grandkids. It’s one of the most necessary preventive qualities that a child can have, bringing them security, peace, confidence, and many other qualities I want them to have. 

As grandparents, we aren’t typically the central role models or influences in our grandkids’ lives, but we definitely can help shape and motivate and guide them, and it’s important that we do. The current state of our culture constantly challenges your grandchild to wrestle with the negatives of life—especially at older ages where they are likely to tune in to those messages. And it causes that child to ask some big questions, like: Will there be enough resources to secure my future? How will my safety and health be provided for? What happens if those close to me are no longer there?

Honestly, we can’t guarantee their future will be a certain way, but it’s even better to bestow huge amounts of hope on our grandkids, because that will carry them through whatever the future may bring. Here are four important qualities grandparents can model for our grandchildren every chance we get:

Hopeful grandparents are determined to be optimistic. We are probably the best examples our grandchildren will see of someone growing older and dealing with adversities and hardships. Since we’re advancing in years, we’ll surely have health challenges eventually, and there could be added difficulties related to relationships, finances, loneliness or other emotional struggles, and on and on. That’s just how life is, but how will we respond? 

Will we endure our later years with dignity and grace, or will our grandkids think of us as grouchy? Will we keep our sense of humor or become bitter? Can we choose to make life worthwhile despite our suffering? Our overriding optimism about life and the world will make a lasting positive impression on our kids and grandkids.

Hopeful grandparents are tuned into the culture’s messages. We may wish our grandchildren could completely avoid any influences that go against our values, but some of it will surely seep into their lives. So it’s our role to learn about the issues and ideas that their minds are absorbing—and we’ll see plenty that is unhealthy, ridiculous and sometimes chaotic. 

But none of that is a reason to lose hope, which is often based a bigger purpose, like an expectation of what is hoped for. We can gently, shrewdly talk about how some of the current ideas may seem interesting and trendy to our grandkids, but ultimately don’t deliver on the promises they make. And just as importantly, we can speak blessings and words of faith to our grandkids as often as possible.

Hopeful grandparents dig deep. If we’re going to deliver messages of hope to our grandkids, we need to be firmly grounded in our convictions, values, faith—whatever drives and motivates us and gives us hope. It needs to reside deeply within, so that our grandchildren see that same hope in our actions, our priorities, our passions. They need to have no doubts that we really mean it when we make bold, hope-filled statements like, “Things aren’t as bad as they seem,” “You’ll get through the difficulties you’re facing at school,” or, “Yes, I’ll still love you no matter what decisions you make in the future.” Hope drives us to examine our own foundation in a manner that will test our faith and transform it into love, if we are willing.

Hopeful grandparents live it out every day. Don’t forget that your actions and words and presence are sending messages of hope to your grandkids. With young kids, reinforcing their parents’ boundaries and expectations is instilling hope in their tender lives. When you attend their sports events, music performances or theatre productions, your presence speaks hope. And when you’re next to them at the dinner table, on the back deck or in the garage, your listening ear, your smile and kinds words all convey hope.

We need to bring our grandchildren strong doses of hope as often as we can. I think of the prophet Jeremiah, who delivered this message to a people in exile who had every reason to despair: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Today, regardless of our current situation, we can build upon that promise, too, as we live with confidence and seek to model the attributes of hope. 

Action Points for Hopeful Grandparents

  • Listen to your grandchild explain his dreams to you and don’t act surprised; let him know it could really happen.
  • Give your grandchild an artifact from your “grandparent museum” which represents an experience from your life where hope played an important role.
  • Tell your grandchild she is special, using comments like: “I’m so proud of you.” “You’re going to make this a better world to live in.”
  • Enjoy making or delivering a special treat that will delight your grandkids. There is comfort in sharing a special meal or treat together, and it conveys joy and hope.
  • Teach your grandkids (and practice together) the sign language expression for hope. See it here.
  • Tell your grandchild about something in your life that you hoped for, and it really happened. Invite them to ask questions about that experience.

How are you instilling hope in your grandkids? Help motivate other grandparents (or gain some motivation) on our Facebook page.