I was recently reading research about finding meaning in our lives and how this impacts our longevity (go here to check it out too!). The effects of defining your life's meaning adds time to your life, in addition to being "sharper" and, of course, "happier". This seems intuitive and for those of us who found our path, I bet you're nodding your head. When you feel a purpose to your existence, or even just goal for your day, it just works out better. Right?
Then, I reflected on my kiddos. In the early days of my career, many of the activities I worked on were contrived and controlled. I directed the child what to do, when to do it, and either he was right or wrong. Add some positive reinforcement, take away the attention to extinguish a behavior; next thing you know, my goal was met. Progress!
As I continue to gain experience and our research base continues to grow, I'm seeing this progress may have been superficial, especially for my kiddos who struggled to carry over these contrived drills into their completely different home life. My activities lacked meaning to their lives, these tasks did not align with the child's purpose.
What is Purpose in Life?
The purpose of life and your purpose in life are very individualized concepts, however you can basically think about it in a few ways...
What wakes you up in the morning?
What's your goal for today? This week? This year?
Do you want to connect with your community?
If so, how do you connect with your community? And how are you making it a better place?
What makes your feel fulfilled each day?
How do you want to be remembered?
Can Children Feel a Purpose in Life?
Of course! The ability to feel (or not feel) a purpose in life takes mega-cognitive skills that our older children start to develop around 5 or 6 years old. When you are able to think about and analyze your own thoughts and actions; understand, analyze and infer others' emotions; and understand your contribution in it all, that's when you may start to develop a sense that your life has meaning. That's when your child may start to truly understand the impact they can have and their role in their community. They may not be able to tell you about it, but somethings we feel deeply before we can express them in symbols and words. Feelings and emotions always come before the words to describe them.
You don't need to wait until they are 6 to start introducing this concept. Your children are sponges! Give them a simple chore, make a goal for the week and discuss how these tasks are important. "When you help mommy put your socks away, your room is clean and we have more time to play!" Remember, right now, your child's main purpose in life is to PLAY and discover her world. That doesn't mean we should neglect taking care of that world.
How Does This Relate to Speech Therapy?
Back to my practice, I've done the best I can to ditch the drills and create an environment where my kiddos are working on what is meaningful to them. If the child is able to answer, I explicitly ask him what he wants to improve on with me. And I always, always, always include it, even if I think it's not necessary. Honor his meaning. If the child is not able to discuss his challenges, then I talk about mine to help give examples. Over time, we learn to evaluate each other as we discuss the mistakes we both made. Miss Susan is known for getting things wrong, so always call her out! We tease, we joke and we celebrate our errors alongside our successes.
Adapting my approach to focus on the child's interests, and therefore focusing on her meaning in life as well, has boosted the progress and, more importantly, carry over of my kiddos' development. Our meaning in life is what keeps us engaged and ready to learn, these are pillars in my practice: engagement and developing problem solving. By guiding our children to find their purpose, we consequently improve their learning in the short term and, in the long term, we create thinkers who are active and helpful members of their community.
How are you going to guide your child to her life's path?