When something traumatic happens, people will tell you again and again how resilient kids are. But some of the courage and resiliency of children comes from their parents. How do you teach your children to be brave?
“Traumatic events offer opportunities for courage and growth. Bravery may be our most important defense against anxiety, and I believe is the gateway to self-esteem,” says Alicia H. Clark, PsyD, PLLC, and a licensed clinical psychologist.
What is bravery?
“Bravery is the experience of being afraid but believing that something else is more important than your fear. It is a choice, and a choice no one can make but ourselves,” says Clark. “Parents can teach kids, and model, the important things of life — our values.”
Clark suggests talking to your kids about your family’s values, and why they are so important. “These values can become the reasons to put fear aside and be brave.”
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While you really cannot teach bravery, you can encourage your kids to act bravely. “Parents can explain that being afraid is a feeling whereas being brave is an action. Taking action doesn’t require feeling good or safe, it only requires courage,” says Clark.
Your children look to you for reassurance — both as a toddler and as they grow. So model the confidence, courage and determination you want them to have. “If a child looks in their parent’s eyes and sees confidence and ‘you can do it!’ then they build up the mettle needed to face life and its challenges with courage and determination,” says Dr. Tim Jordan, developmental/behavioral pediatrician and author of the new book Sleeping Beauties, Awakened Women: Guiding the Transformation of Adolescent Girls. “If on the other hand a child sees angst and worry in their parent’s eyes and expression, they take this fear on and they lose courage and daring.”
Allow kids to fail
Sure, it’s tempting to shield your kids from every stumble and correct every mistake before their perfect 100 average score on homework can be sullied with a single 95. But doing so deprives your kids of the ability to try, fail and try again.
“When parents allow this process to play out, a child gains confidence and a ‘can-do’ attitude that carries over to the next obstacle. One way bravery is acquired is through these kinds of experiences, because kids will bring a higher sense of optimism, hope, determination, and grit to subsequent tasks when they believe they have what it takes to overcome challenges… because they have,” says Jordan.
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Let them take risks
When Kelly Clarkson sings “Stronger,” she’s sending a really important message — taking risks really does make you stronger. And as a parent, it’s your job to teach your kids to learn from their mistakes. “If kids are punished or criticized for making mistakes, then they may end up avoiding trying things that are hard or challenging because of their fear of punishment. If instead mistakes are celebrated as opportunities to learn and as a natural part of creativity and achievement, then kids will be willing to take on tough problems and to take risks because they have the courage that comes with this awareness,” says Jordan.
And when your child is nervous about something new, tell them about your own stories of trying, failing and trying again. “Look for chances to acknowledge times that kids take chances, try new things, and attempt to stretch out of their comfort zones. Don’t just affirm victories and successes because it teaches kids to focus on the results instead of the process, the destination instead of the journey,” says Jordan.