Little Life Lessons – The Purpose of Life

When you’re a young child, life seems to be a constant bliss of playtime, food, and sleep. Before the age of five, the meaning of life wasn’t even a notion on your plate. As you grow older, so does your brain and your life experiences, and you start to pick up nuances and virtues along the way. But as we get into adulthood, sometimes the virtues we learned as a child get lost or displaced. We sometimes lose track of what it means to be a human being and more so, a decent human being.

What makes a person truly virtuous? You might see heroic or selfless acts from people all over the world. Is it an innate obligation to do right and to help others? We’ve seen people risk their lives to save another. We’ve seen someone pay for another person’s groceries. And we’ve seen people stand up to bullies. Perhaps they learned at a young age to just “do the right thing”, or they learned through hard lessons in life. But I ask this – what exactly is the right thing to do? And when is the right time to talk to our kids about virtue, honesty, and purpose?

When you’re school-aged, the importance of learning fundamental math and language arts is already part of the school curriculum. But how do you learn about your life purpose? And who do you learn it from? Our teachers can only teach what is offered in school. But sometimes you get lucky and you meet a teacher who teaches you how to succeed in life. I was fortunate to have met a few teachers who taught about humanity and compassion, and their teachings were amplified through their own kind actions.

As I nurture and teach my own child as he grows up, I hope and pray that he’ll have the necessary tools to navigate through adulthood. I wish he will grow up to be a person with values and virtues. With kindness and compassion. But I can only provide him with what I learned while living at home and through my own personal experiences.

At every opportunity possible, I try to talk to my son about his “life purpose”. And then I wonder if I start sounding like I’m forcing him to be someone he’s not, or doesn’t want to grow up to be. Oftentimes as parents, we reflect what we wish we were onto our children. Us parents might not have done all the things we wish we had done as children. Wished we had talked a certain way. Acted a certain way. Or became a different person. But I know that while he’s going through his own growing pains, I do see specks of kindness and purpose in him. He realizes what is important right now and that’s okay for me.

So when is a good time to teach children about “life’s purposes”? Experts might tell you that children don’t really grasp the meaning of life until they’re teenagers. But as soon as your child is old enough to start learning the difference between right and wrong, would be the best time to start. 

Below I’ve listed some talking points for your children depending on age. Of course everyone is different, and a child’s age doesn’t necessarily correlate with maturity and mentality. Please note that some of these questions are what I’ve come across throughout my years working with children.

Primary school age (grades 1-3):

  • Do you like school? Why/Why not?

  • Do you like your friends? Why/Why not?

  • What do you like best about school?

  • What do you like least about school?

  • What do you want to learn from your teachers?

  • What do you want your teachers to teach you?

  • Do you like animals? If so, what kind of animal?

  • What do you want to be when you grow up? Why do you want to be that?

Primary school age (grades 4-5):

  • Do you like school? Why/Why not?

  • What would you do if you meet a bully?

  • What would you do if you meet a stranger?

  • What do you want to learn from your teachers?

  • What do you want your teachers to teach you?

  • Why do you think homework is important?

  • Why do you think you should manage your hygiene?

  • What do you want to be when you grow up? Why do you want to be that?

Secondary school age (grades 6-8):

  • Do you like school? Why/Why not?

  • What would you do if you meet a bully?

  • What would you do if you find a $20 bill on the ground?

  • What would you do if you find a $5 bill on the ground?

  • Do you think you should say thank you even when you don’t need to?

  • Do you think you should help pay for your classmate’s lunch? 

  • Do you like animals? Why/Why not?

  • Do you care about your planet/environment? Why/Why not?

  • How do you think you can improve situations around you?

  • What would you do if someone fell on the floor?

  • What would you do if someone asks to copy your homework?

High school age (grades 9-12):

  • Do you like school? Why/Why not?

  • What’s most important in your life right now?

  • Why do you care about things?

  • What are your goals in high school?

  • Why are these goals important to you?

  • What would you do if your friend stops being your friend?

  • What do you think it means to be a good person?

  • What can you do to make a positive impact on the world?

  • What do you do if someone asks you to do something that isn’t right?

  • What do you hope to accomplish in 5 years? In 10 years? In 20 years?

  • How will you accomplish these goals?

As we’re approaching the holiday season, staying home and staying safe, this would be a great time to talk to your kids about these important topics. If you start asking these questions at a young age and then continue through high school, you might notice a dramatic change or very little change. But the wonderful thing about that is to see just exactly how your children changes as they get older. Oftentimes we’re afraid to ask our children the big questions. Heck, sometimes we’re even afraid to ask ourselves those same questions. But the sooner you get your children to open up about their own views of the world, the easier it is to talk to them about life’s little lessons and their own purpose in life.

For an in-depth talk with your teens, check out The Greater Good initiative: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/talk_with_teens_about_purpose

 

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