Teaching children to have courage

What is the meaning of courage?

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown identifies the three cornerstones of whole hearted living:  courage, compassion and connection.  Wouldn’t we all  love to encourage these qualities in our children?

The word courage comes from the the Latin word, “cor” which means heart.  Today courage is usually associated with being brave.  In our child’s world, it may mean not crying when getting a shot at the doctor’s or heading off to school for the first time even though we are shaking in our boots.

In the past though, courage meant something rather different.  It meant to speak one’s mind by sharing one’s heart.  It meant sharing honestly and openly who we are rather than trying to impress and meet someone else’s expectations. Having courage in modern day society which is built on comparisons and competition is a daunting job. What child doesn’t worry about fitting in, being popular, dressing in the current style or in a million other ways, being the best?

Children are naturally authentic

When children are little, they feel little or no shame with sharing who they are.  They are authentically themselves.  We watch small children dance or draw or sing without any restrictions or inhibitions. They are excited and proud to share their efforts. But later, as children approach eight to ten years of age this all changes. Suddenly they begin to compare how they dance with the moves of others. They look at their art work and notice that someone else’s looks better or garners more approval. They worry about singing off key.

The Great Comparison Game

Once the comparison begins, we start to hold close our true authentic selves as well as the expression of our gifts and talents. This is the age when children begin to say, “I can’t draw or I can’t dance.”  They stand on the sidelines and watch others.  They become too cool to dance or sing.  They speak disparagingly of their own efforts.  They act like it doesn’t matter.  Thus begins the great comparison game.

Ask any adult today and they can usually remember a specific time when they felt different and inadequate in comparison to others.  Maybe it was an actual incident when someone made fun of their efforts.  Maybe it was much more subtle, such as the rolling of eyes and shaking of the head. In any case, they made a decision that they just didn’t have the talent, the skill or the ability that someone else did. They didn’t measure up.  They weren’t enough.

How do we teach courage?   

Teaching children to have courage, to be who they authentically are is not an easy task.  It doesn’t mean creating a perfect world where a child will never feel shame. It doesn’t mean patting them on the back and saying “Good job.  You can do and be anything you want!” It’s much harder and more complicated than offering pat answers and meaningless phrases to our children.

Instead it means teaching children to have the inner resources and confidence to know in Brene’s words, “I am imperfect and I am enough.” Sometimes it means just listening without offering solutions. It means sitting with them through the pain and holding their hands and their hearts. It means teaching children to be gentle and kind to themselves as well as others.  How many of us have high standards and expectations of ourselves that we would never impose on someone else?

Teaching children to have courage means helping them discern who supports and encourages them in our often critical and judgmental world and who to disassociate from and ignore. It is recognizing that being enough means not having to please and meet the expectations of peers.  A true friend is someone who accepts us as we are, imperfections and all.

Finally, we teach courage by modeling it ourselves. We can share our own struggles and imperfections. We can teach by example as we courageously try new things and give ourselves permission to be imperfect.  We can do the heart work and know that it will create a ripple effect in our children and in our world.

Here’s another great video from Rocket Kids on Courage:

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