I will never forget the glint in his eye as he let go of that fireman’s pole at the playground, just as soon as his feet touched the ground. He had wanted to try to go down that pole so many times before, but always backed away. This time was different and he went down all by himself. He looked up at me with the biggest smile and said:
“I practiced courage, mommy!”
Being vulnerable is not easy for anyone. I would even go so far as to say that everyone has moments when they are scared of doing something or nervous about what others will think about them. Living simply takes courage!
Courage is a virtue kids get to practice daily, but it seems parents talk with them less about it than other virtues like respect or responsibility. However a little encouragement and discussion about courage can go a long way! And how wonderful to help our children develop this beautiful quality from a young age so that they can live bravely and be true to their own selves as they grow up.
We shouldn’t forget that as adults we can mentally balance out the risks and the benefits of various situations, but young children live in the moment and often don’t think about anything besides what is right in front of them. It is wise to remember that something that seems small to us can be a big deal to them. Things like:
- Responding to an unknown grown-up in the grocery store who is trying to make conversation
- Going to a birthday party
- Dressing up for a holiday (and being the centre of attention)
- Trying a new food
- Singing a song in front of other people (even in a group!)
Giving our children encouragement and opportunities to practice courage is important, but respecting their own development and personalities is important as well. Comparing, bribing, shaming, or punishing never helps.
Here are some thoughts from other mothers about how to teach courage to young children:
“For our family, we provide safe space to take risks and provide models of having courage. One key strategy we use is to role play or practice having courage in the scary situation. Our four year old was scared to speak during the children’s church class. We went to the building a couple of days before the presentation, after practicing at home, and he tried out his part in the same room he would be presenting. That experience gave him confidence. Pretty soon he was mentoring the other kids on having the courage to go up.” – Sheila from Pennies of Time: Teaching Kids to Serve
“We talk about things/experiences that worry us, and strategies to overcome those feelings. My daughter also has a set of worry dolls that she shares her worries with before she goes to bed. She has a comforter (a bunny) that she’s rather attached to. Bunny began his life as a sleeping bunny, but he has become my daughter’s best friend. When she is encountering an experience that worries her, she asks if she can bring bunny along.” – Jackie from My Little Bookcase
“We like drawing examples from books or movies. And he likes to pretend to be super heroes, that comes in very handy!” – Leanna from All Done Monkey
“We talk about courage as doing something even when you’re afraid. When my daughter climbs down from the tower at the playground and mentions that she was scared, I say: But you did it! That took courage!” – Emma from P is for Preschooler
Besides parental modelling (which is always the first way to teach a child any virtue!), I believe that conversing about character traits while engaging in hands-on activities and exploring themes via storytelling are also powerful ways for children to understand and eventually exhibit the traits. Here are some resources that can help with this:
- Book list of stories that build courage. From Scholastic.
- A list of 101 opportunities to give kids to let them practice courage (plus another book list). From Carrots are Orange.
- Activities to explore the concept of courage with kids. From True Aim.
What other thoughts or resources do you have about how to teach courage to young children?
To browse more character building activities on my website, click here.