We all want our children to be confident and courageous, however we often don’t really give it a lot of thought, other than exposing our children to the classic stereotypes of courage as shown by the Superhero characters that they see in films and on their computer games.
So what is courage and how can we teach our children to access and develop it?
While there are many differing views about courage, fundamentally it is about the ability to do something that frightens you or is out of your comfort zone. Courage involves taking a risk, and risk automatically creates fear. Courage does not exist without fear, otherwise it is doesn’t require courage to achieve whatever it is we are facing.
When we face something that creates fear in us, we can experience a range of uncomfortable and unsettling physical feelings such pounding heart, shortness of breath, shaky legs, churning stomach to name a few, and this can stop us from being brave and taking that risk.
Children are born with only one fear, the fear of falling, so all other fear is learnt. We know how important it is to teach children safety, and to be cautious of things that may be extremely dangerous or harmful to them. At the same time we don’t want to hamper their natural curiosity and adventurous spirit.
Why it’s important to teach our children courage.
We can’t always be there to protect our children from life’s challenges, and that’s why it’s important for children to learn to trust themselves and their own decisions. Learning how to be courageous also helps children to develop their self- belief and to be authentic to themselves. Being brave helps to build their resilience and broaden their skills and abilities.
How you can teach and support your children to develop their courage.
· Explain the different types of courage
Children are generally familiar with the type of courage demonstrated by their Superheroes, epitomised by strength, determination and physical prowess. However it is important to teach our children different types of courage, such as the courage to trust their instincts and say ‘no’ to physical challenges they are not ready for, the courage to stand up for themselves and others, the courage to make a mistake and own up to it, and the courage to challenge and question their ideas and beliefs.
· Be a rolemodel for courage
One of my favourite sayings is “ I can’t hear what you’re telling me, because your actions are speaking so loudly.” Children repeat the actions they learn from their influential rolemodels, so it is important for them to see their parents and carers displaying courageous acts. It is also good to explain to your children that it does take courage for you to do certain things and that you do feel fear as well. You could also share any helpful strategies you use to help you overcome your fears.
· Reinforce their courage
Children can often begin to doubt themselves when they experience the physical symptoms of fear such as a pounding heart, butteflies in their stomach, and shortness of breath. Remind them that it’s normal and healthy to feel afraid, and that the symptoms will recede when they focus on the challenge they are encountering. It’s also good to tell them how proud you are of them for having a go anyway. A really powerful affirmation children can use to help them in challenging situations is “ I am brave, even when I’m scared”.
· Encourage their sense of adventure
Courage is like a muscle which only develops with exercise, so it is important to encourage your children to step out of their comfort zone to experience a range of new activities. Asking questions and being curious and open also helps them to explore new possibilities and develop their courage. Encourage your children to focus on the process and what they learn about themselves during their challenges rather than solely on the outcome. Remind them that failure and rejection are important ways for them to learn and a sign that they have done something brave.