Courage is a trait that parents may overlook in their attempt to teach other virtues such as compassion, forgiveness, and kindness, and honesty.
Kids must learn that conflict is not always wrong, and we’ve got to stop feeding them the line that “nice boys and girls are cautious, compliant and pleasant instead of assertive, virtuous and courageous.” (Paul Coughlin, author and founder of The Protectors, an organization devoted to helping kids stand up to bullying.)
Couglin goes on to define courage as “the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation, whether for ourselves or for others. Courage is pivotal because in order to truly possess any virtue, a person must be able to sustain it in the face of difficulty. In other words, courage is the foundational virtue upon which others rest. Or don’t.”
So if you teach your child about honesty or compassion, but he doesn’t have the courage to follow through with either one of those in the face of difficulty, then those virtues are only half developed.
How to Teach Courage
Perhaps I’m stating the obvious here, but I think that parents look for easy ways to teach things to kids and they overlook the first step, a HUGE step:
Step 1: Model Courage in Front of Your Kids
Let them see you stand up for what’s right even when it’s not easy. Show them what it looks like to step out and try something new or hard. Show integrity and honesty even when it hurts or it’s inconvenient. Let them see you be compassionate even when it’s not the popular thing to do. The best way for courage to be taught to kids is for it to be caught.
Step 2: Build Confidence in Your Kids
As you encourage independence in your child a little bit at a time, you help build their confidence. That confidence is the foundation for them learning to be courageous as they grow up. Confidence feeds courage, which feeds confidence, which feeds courage.
Step 3: Saying NO is not Enough
Courage is not just saying no, or avoiding bad things like drugs or drinking or cheating. Yes, that’s important, but courage is more than avoidance of bad, it’s choosing to do good.
For instance, we all want our kids to say No to drugs and they need to be prepared to do so, but courage also means saying Yes–to befriending that kid that everyone bullies, or helping that old lady in your neighborhood who everyone laughs at.
Step 4: Reinforce Courage
Praise your child when he returns a toy he’s found to its rightful owner or stands up to a bully in school or befriends an unpopular kid. Courage is like a muscle, the more it’s exercised, the stronger it will become. The more your child uses his courage muscles, the stronger he will be when faced with either backing down or doing what is right.
Step 5: Expect Fear
I can’t say it any better than Paul Coughlin says it when he talks about feeling fear:
Fear is a normal, perhaps even necessary presence whenever we’re given the opportunity to grow courage.
Your kids need to know that feeling afraid does not mean they are not courageous. We all feel fear, but it’s what we do in the face of that fear that makes us either exhibit courage or cowardice.
We want to raise kids who are not afraid to share their strength and goodness. Teaching them courage–whether it’s in school, at home, or on the ball field–will begin a foundation that will result in adults that will not only say no to what’s wrong but will have the fortitude to be a force for goodness.
Don’t waste another minute! The next season of youth sports is upon you.
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