From these answers and by looking at courage through the lens of a child, we can begin to understand what it means for them in the context of their lives.
But why is courage so important and why do we need our kids to be courageous?
Courage is so important for our kids because it helps them do things that are important for their own development, well-being and safety that would ordinarily bring up fear. Courage is the special piece that helps them push through their fears so they can learn to trust themselves, take risks and develop confidence. It’s also the crucial piece in keeping our kids safe when they need to speak up about things that might be wrong or make them feel uncomfortable. Courage builds our kids capacity to stand up for themselves and others and say no or tell an adult when they feel unsafe. With courage, kids learn to set healthy boundaries around themselves, they learn to hold others accountable and they learn to be more comfortable with change, new experiences and their own personal growth.
So now that we know that it’s important, how can we as parents support our kids to be more courageous in their lives?
1. Model Courage For Your Kids
Whether we, as parents, like it or not, or whether we want it or not, our kids will model our behaviours. They’re watching us everyday as their guide for navigating the world around them. Between infancy and around the age of 6, children will make up their view of the world and who they are in it. And so naturally they will be watching how courageous we are in our lives.
So if you want your kids to be more courageous, if you want them to try new things (even if they might not be very good at it or might fail), be ok with making new friends, speak up about things that are wrong or when they feel unsafe, then you’ll have to do that too.
As an adult, that might look like trying a new sport or learning a new skill, meeting other new parents, going to a networking event, speaking up, telling your truth, having honest conversations with your loved ones or friends and having clear boundaries around how you want to be treated. The other really powerful way to model courage for your kids is to share your failures and struggles with them, from the past and as they’re happening. Let them in on what it feels like and then show them how you’ve found or are finding a way to turn it into a learning and growth opportunity. When they see you fail and then get back up, then they learn that failure isn’t bad, it’s just something to experience on the journey of growth and learning.
2. Encourage Your Kids To Fully Feel and Rumble with Difficult Emotions
One of the hardest things as a parent is when our kids are struggling with difficult emotions, such as being really sad, hurt or even angry. It’s a very natural response to want to remove the struggle and make it better for them. That’s our job isn’t it, to protect our little ones?
But when you rush in and try to stop, minimize or distract them into feeling something else, you take away your kids developing capacity to fully feel their emotions and move through them in a healthy and productive way. One of the biggest problems we as adults face is how to authentically feel our emotions and process them so we can move through and handle situations and circumstances, personally and professionally. And trust me, it’s harder to fix later on in life than when you’re a little person.
So next time your child is really sad, feels hurt or is overcome with anger, give them space to feel their feelings while at the same time offering them empathy and compassion. It’s best to not say much other than ‘yeah, that sounds really hard’ or ‘yeah I can see you’re really sad sweetheart’ or ‘that’s really upsetting isn’t it?’ And then let them talk about it or cry about it and practice listening with all ears. A valuable coaching technique, called backtracking, is to repeat back to them what they said ‘so what I’m hearing sweetie, is that when that girl said that thing to you, it really hurt’. When you do this, your kids feel that you heard them and that they’re acknowledged and that’s sometimes all they need when they’re struggling through difficult emotions. They just want to be heard. And when you allow them to talk about it, you build their capacity for emotional expression, which is a key skill later on in life.
3. Encourage and support your kids to get out of their comfort zone regularly
It’s natural for kids to not want to get out of their comfort zone. In fact, as you’re well aware, it’s natural for us parents too! It’s part of being human. But part of being human as well is growth and learning and in order to experience both of those things, you have to step out of your comfort zone. And the key to encouraging your kids (and you by the way too) is to teach your kids to find a way to embrace the discomfort that comes along with the process.
There are two great ways to do this. First, plan activities and experiences regularly that get your kids to get out of their comfort zone, such as to join a new sports team, try a new activity, have a playdate with a new friend, try something scary and fun together like mountain biking or ziplining (just to name a couple), learn to play a musical instrument or go to an event where there are lots of people and activities such as festivals and community events.
And second, when your child is brave enough to participate in these activities and experiences, make a big deal about it! And support and encourage them through words of acknowledgement, so that they feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in overcoming their fears and discovering new things they never thought they could do. Once they get a hit of the dopamine that comes with accomplishment and overcoming challenges, they’re more likely to do it again and again.
It’s a Win Win
Parenting can be tough and challenging on any day of the week but it can also be the most rewarding and fulfilling experience you’ll ever have. And the win win about parenting, is that by helping our kids grow and become independent, confident, balanced and happy humans, we also get the opportunity to become independent, confident, balanced and happy grown ups through the growth and learning we experience from being a parent. And when it comes to courage, it’s the foundation of everything important - love, belonging, connection, creativity and so much more. So is it worth the discomfort that comes with teaching our kids to be courageous and being courageous ourselves? Absolutely! It’s worth every bit. So go on, be brave and teach your kids to be brave too!
Dagmar believes that change can be an opportunity for growth and transformation and courage is the catalyst that makes change possible. Dagmar is passionate about working with people in change, helping them move forward when they feel stuck and helping them get past the obstacles holding them back from becoming their best selves.
Author: Dagmar Meachem
Visit her website at: couragespace.com