How can parents help a child develop courage?
Meet Caleb. His superpower is courage.
Courage – noun
The definition of courage is the ability to do something that frightens you … strength in the face of pain or grief.
If you’ve ever seen The Wizard of Oz, you may remember the lion who wanted to travel with Dorothy on her journey to Oz so he could find some courage. Turns out, the lion already had courage and just needed the Wizard to show him how to distinguish courage from wisdom.
Or, perhaps you’ve seen The Lion King and watched Simba’s journey to discover courage after overcoming his childhood adversity of losing his father. Simba had to grow, acquire wisdom and distinguish between the illusion or application of courage.
Do lions make you think of courage? Or, perhaps there’s someone in your life that comes to mind who survived a challenging life experience. Perhaps you have a dear family member who survived cancer. Or, maybe you saw a friend go through a painful divorce. There are many times in life when people have opportunities to demonstrate courage, and sometimes people may not even realize they are being observed as courageous.
Oftentimes, when courage is needed, we react or respond to something that has happened outside of our control.
As parents, how do you help a child develop courage, especially after they may have experienced an adverse childhood experience (ACE)? After surviving a difficult life experience, fear may be realistic, especially if the child fears going through something similar again.
We serve a God who is as mighty as a lion and as gentle as a lamb. We turn to God for strength, and he comforts us through our struggles.
How can you nurture your child’s ability to not fear adversity and teach them about their God-given strength?
We asked some of our internal experts about the different stages of childhood and how children may feel about courage.
Bekah – Director, Foster Youth Aging Out Program, Lubbock, Texas
Teens need the opportunity to be courageous. By that I mean they need general teen life experiences and activities. Young adults in foster care often feel they can’t or aren’t allowed to have regular teenage experiences due to licensing regulations, rules of the agency they are placed with, or rules of the court making decisions for them.
Youth in foster care need to participate in extracurricular activities that stretch their comfort zones and encourage them to try new things. They need the chance to try new things and the grace for when they make mistakes. They need adults who will pour into them and invest in relationships with them so they feel safe enough to be courageous.
Parents need to be the safe place for their teens to land when something doesn’t work out or when they make a mistake. Foster parents must be willing to work through the challenges and not give up when a teenager in care makes a bad decision. That doesn’t mean not having consequences, but it does mean building trusting relationships with your teen so they know the consequences are coming from a place of care. Creating that safe, trusting relationship will give your teen the courage they need to make decisions on their own and try new things.
Cassandra – Director, Buckner Family Hope Center at Reed Road in Houston, Texas
Oftentimes when parents struggle, the child may internalize and not be aware of the adult challenges. I also see cases where the parent wants better for their child and in turn the child demonstrates resiliency from this style of parenting. Parenting children by being an example allows the child to overcome common circumstances they may not be able to avoid due to their circumstance.
Communication is key and having open dialogue allows the child to process the best way they are able. Reach out for support and/or resources to help facilitate this kind of conversation, if needed.
Dior – Director of Administration and Operations, Houston, Texas
Parents can help children be courageous by giving them the opportunity to do challenging things that are either physically challenging or participate in things that might be out of their comfort zone: Things like contests, events, sports, etc. It is important to really understand your own child and his or her strengths and weaknesses to help them identify areas where courage is required. If being social is something that is challenging for a child, you help them to be courageous by going to a new camp or participating in an activity where they don’t know anyone.
Parents must nurture their children’s ability to be successful by giving them opportunities that allow them to step outside of their comfort zone yet are within their ability to be successful. It is so important to also acknowledge when children try new or hard things and validate the feelings of it being difficult and how they overcame it. There is power in celebrating overcoming hard things with our children to allow them to see how brave and courageous they can be when challenged to do so.
When kids try a new sport or participate in an activity, they do not know anyone or have never tried it before – this is courage. When kids stand up in front of a crowd and perform or read aloud in front of the class – this is courage. If they have a fear of heights and climb to the top of a big slide, that can take a tremendous amount of courage. It may look like small things to someone else, but for that child it may be conquering one of their biggest fears.
It is all about perspective and very individualized based on the child’s strengths and weaknesses. For many children, it can be the start of a new school year with the anticipation of a new class, new friends, new teacher, new expectations, etc. It is confronting the unknown that bonds us all and requires courage, no matter how old you are.
Tips to help encourage courage in children
- Communication. Building trust and a relationship where children feel comfortable to openly share about their feelings or passions can provide opportunities for parents to see times their child demonstrated bravery. Ask them how they felt using courage to overcome a fear? They may not realize they were brave, and you recognizing when they were can be a confidence boost.
- Observe. Perhaps you watch your child play sports or see them act in a play. Was there a moment you can pull out of your time watching your child that indicated bravery? Maybe the game went into overtime. Maybe the play had lighting or technical difficulties. Regardless of the adversity, what positive behavior did you see your child exhibit?
- Reminders. Repeated words of affirmation from a parent may be the positivity needed to muster courage to try in the face of fear. Building courage isn’t a one-and-done deal. It takes time and patience to build your child into a confident individual.
- Faith. Sometimes we must learn to control what we can control and leave what we cannot to God. It takes courage to accept what we cannot control and surrender the urge to avoid discomfort. This is a teaching moment with children about seasons of life and that tough times are generally temporary.
- Keep moving forward. Let’s say your child gives into fear instead of courage. The good news is they can have a do-over opportunity when the next situation arises where they can choose courage over fear. Remind them of their humanity. Remind them of your belief in their abilities to achieve. Most importantly, encourage them to keep moving forward and not to dwell on mistakes, which are really learning opportunities and a part of childhood on the path to adulthood.
- Practice makes perfect. Trying new things helps children discover their passions or God-given talents. It’s equally as valuable to learn what you don’t like as it is to learn what you do like. When you know what you do like, you can begin to nurture your child in his or her strengths in different ways.
- Celebrate uniqueness. Children observe their peers, parents and the world around them to learn. They may see someone else with talents in an area that is not their strength. Remind your children that everyone has different God gifts and to not be discouraged if theirs are different from friends or other children their age. Some people find their talents very early, while some of us discover them later in life.
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